Recession forces up work-related mental health problems

A tenth of British workers have sought help from their doctors as a result of stress over the recession, according to a report by Mind out today.

The report, which also shows 7% of British workers have started taking antidepressants for stress and mental health problems directly caused by the pressures of recession on their workplace, launches Mind’s campaign Taking Care of Business and a week of events to highlight mental health issues.

Mind’s report, based on a survey of 2050 workers also found that as a direct result of recession:

– 5% of British workers had seen a counsellor

– Half said staff morale was low

– 28% were working longer hours

– A third said staff were having to compete against each other.

Mind says the recession may have exacerbated mental distress in the workplace, but added that badly managed stress and workplace mental health problems are “a long-standing issue in our workforce”. Previous research shows that up to 5 million people rate themselves as very or extremely stressed by their jobs.

Mind’s new research found that over the course of their careers:

– Almost 50% of people had lost sleep due to work

– 22% had developed depression

– 1 in 5 said that work stress had made them physically ill

– 1 in 4 had cried at work due to unmanageable pressure

– Only 38% of workers think their current employer is doing enough to support them.

Mind’s Taking Care of Business campaign will last five years and aims to promote mental wellbeing at work. The campaign, which is backed by businesses such as BT and AXA, trade unions such as the TUC and Dragon’s Den entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne, calls for recognition that mental health problems do affect every workforce and for an end to mental health stigma at work. Employers and employees should stop seeing mental health problems as a sign of weakness and start finding solutions, says Mind. It also calls on employers to promote a culture where employees can discuss stress and mental distress openly without fear of the consequences and for organisations to introduce workplace mental health policies that promote wellbeing for all staff, tackle work-related mental health problems and support staff who are experiencing mental distress.

Duncan Bannatyne said: “The recession will really have an impact on many employees who are a bit insecure in their jobs, who maybe aren’t sure that the company is doing well and are scared in case the company goes into administration, or redundancies are made. It’s a very anxious time. However, the recession is also a good time for businesses to be working on promoting good staff wellbeing. You’ve got to look after your staff. If you haven’t got staff, you haven’t got a business. It’s as simple as that.

“Although mental health problems account for the second biggest cause of sickness absence at work, awareness and understanding of mental health problems are extremely poor and most senior managers do not believe mental health problems affect their workforce. Mental health remains a taboo subject and employees often choose to put on a brave face at work concealing their distress. This mixture of denial and bad management mean that mental health problems cost businesses an estimated £26 billion a year, which with better mental health and wellbeing interventions, could be slashed by a third saving the industry up to £8 billion a year.”

Mind’s Chief Executive Paul Farmer said: “Considering how much time we spend at work, it is hardly surprising that it can have a huge impact on our mental wellbeing. A bad work environment can be damaging and can trigger a wide range of problems from exhaustion to depression, while having a good working life is proven to be an asset for our overall mental health. Employers and employees have a responsibility to recognise that mental health is an issue in every workforce and make sure they are doing what they can to promote a healthy workplace.

“Working conditions have been incredibly tough for the last couple of years, and the emotional fall out of the recession doesn’t just centre on people who have lost their jobs, but on people who are struggling to cope with the extra demands of working harder, longer hours, and under more pressure as their employers battle for survival. It is more important than ever that businesses look at how they can manage stress levels and improve the working environment for all their employees.

“Investing in wellbeing doesn’t have to be expensive, and businesses who look after their staff reap the rewards in reduced sickness absence and increased productivity. Small changes can have big results, such as making sure staff take their breaks and making time to listen to their concerns. Not investing in wellbeing can be damaging to staff and eat into the success of a business. No employer can afford to ignore mental health.”

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