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Mental Health in the Workplace: The Facts

We spend a large part of our lives in the workplace, trying to earn an honest crust and get by, but it can also be a highly stressful place where we have become immune to the problem of others. The figures surrounding mental health in the workplace make for worrying reading.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 91 million working days a year are lost through mental health illness. Most of us, over 80%, actually believe that employers should be concerned about the mental health of staff and that it needs to be part of company policy. Still, within a given year, 3 out of 10 employees will suffer from some sort of mental health problem, the majority of these depression and anxiety.

Whilst a certain amount of stress is part of the human condition, and a necessary and healthy thing, when conditions move into excess then health problems such as fatigue, depression and anxiety begin to develop. This can lead to poor decision making and mistakes, creating even greater stress. Unchallenged, many people can develop even deeper mental health issues as well as physical health problems such as heart disease.

Most of us believe that we will encounter some sort of severe stress in work at one point or another. It’s deemed part and parcel of modern day employment. One surprising statistic is that almost half of us know of someone who has been so affected by stress that they have had to stop work.

The price of mental health problems in the workplace is also substantial. Estimates state that it costs businesses across the UK some £4 billion and, according to the CBI, 30 more days are lost because of it compared to each day lost for industrial disputes. It’s not just the cost in absence that causes problems – there’s the reduced productivity from someone who is under a great deal of stress and the prospect of bad decision making that can impact on a company’s finances and reputation.

There are a number of factors that affect stress levels in the workplace including:

  • Having no control over the type and level of work you do.
  • Not being used for the skills you may possess.
  • Uncertainty over job prospects and your future role in the company.
  • Too much or even too little work that makes you feel pressed or undervalued.
  • Poor working conditions that put you at risk and problems with work colleagues.
  • Low pay and lack of social position both within the company and outside.

Not everyone’s situation will be the same, but the effect of stress can be catastrophic in those cases where it is allowed to get out of hand. A banker who needs to earn X amount for their boss may be under just as much stress as a steel worker who is worried about losing his or her job.

Our collective attitude is also a problem. Over a third of people who have suffered mental health issues have found themselves teased or bullied at work and over two thirds of those with problems put off applying for new work because of the experiences they had in previous employment.

We are more likely to avoid mentioning that we are under stress compared to a physical problem that may impair our performance. That’s because there is a culture of negativity that surrounds the issue of mental health and it is something that individuals and businesses need to tackle if there is to be future improvement.

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