Employers need to do more to recognise and support employees with mental health issues and to address stress, according to a career coach who specialises in mental health.
Nicole O'Driscoll of www.careerjourney.co.uk says working mums can face particular stresses at work which employers should recognise before they get to crisis point. Part of the problem is the fact that they might feel totally split between their home and work responsibilities and find that they are not enjoying either. “They may feel a split between their professional and home persona,” she says, “having to rush out the door to pick up children and to be a very different person at home. They may feel that their family does not appreciate their work responsibilities and the level they have attained.”
Then there's the multi-tasking. “Women are good at it for evolutionary reasons, but being more adaptable means they can appear to be coping until they reach crisis point. They need to recognise when it is becoming a problem and having an insidious impact on their mental health,”says Nicole.
She adds that research shows that women have more stress hormones and stress is linked to a number of illnesses as well as mental health. This is because they are aware of all the things they need to do, she says. “Men tend to chill out, for instance, on a commute, while women feel stresed about the time they are wasting and are thinking of all the things they have to do like shopping. Tesco is full of exhausted mums on the way home from work doing the shopping,” she adds.
Nicole, who used to work full time in the mental health field, says exhaustion has a huge impact on mental and physical health. “It is corrosive over time. The body goes into a really nervous state, pumped up on adrenalin to help it cope which affects digestion and contributes to anxiety disorders and chronic fatigue,” she says. Many self-medicate to get through the day.
This exhaustion is fed by pressure on mums to do more with their children, including ferrying them to various after school activities.
Nicole says women in particular find it hard to talk about mental health issues at work even though it can impact on their productivity. “It's a hangover from them feeling they have to perform at 150% to justify their presence in the workplace,” she says.
So what can be done to reduce that stress in the workplace? Nicole says women are often counselled to delegate, but she adds that in reality that can be difficult. Support groups at work can help as can areas at work where people can have time out when things are getting too much. More important is having a workplace and a manager who recognise the signs of stress and try to address the issues in a supportive way. “If someone has been managing perfectly and then has a dip in productivity there has to be something wrong.” she says. “Professionals do not tend to drag their feet just for the sake of it. There is normally a good reason. Companies should trust that they have chosen the right person for the job and develop an open culture where people can talk about their mental health. Nine times out of 10 when you ask these people if anything is wrong at home they burst into tears.”
Nicole admits that the current economic crisis is not contributing to good mental health in the workplace and says bullying is on the increase. She advises anyone being bullied in the office to get out as soon as possible or at the very least to take notes of all exchanges with the bully in question to strengthen any legal case.
Often that bullying starts when a woman announces she is pregnant or comes back from maternity leave, says Nicole. It's a time when a woman's confidence can already be low so the impact of bullying can be incredibly negative and can last for years afterwards. Staying in that damaging atmosphere can be much more harmful than many people think, she says, and even if the person feels trapped, there is usually a way out. She states: “It is easier to change job than you think and the long-term impact of bullying can totally undermine your self-esteem.”