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Workers turn to antidepressants as recession takes its toll

Monday, 17 May 2010 Mind

Duncan Bannatyne joins Mind’s new workplace campaign.

Mind today presents compelling new evidence that the recession has had a devastating effect on the wellbeing of British workers. The charity has found that since the recession 1 in 10 workers have sought support from their doctors and 7% have started taking antidepressants for stress and mental health problems directly caused by the pressures of recession on their workplace. The findings coincide with new government statistics showing the biggest rise in antidepressant prescriptions ever, with a record 39.1 million issued in 2009, up from 35.9 million in 2008.

Mind’s Populus poll of 2050 workers found that as a direct result of recession:

  • 1 in 10 had visited their GP for support
  • 7% had started a course of medical treatment for depression
  • 5% 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’s findings prompt fears for the mental health of hundreds of thousands of workers who face debilitating pressure as businesses tighten their belts. Many staff are working longer hours, competing with colleagues to keep their jobs and facing a slump in morale.

The recession may have exacerbated mental distress in the workplace but badly managed stress and workplace mental health problems are a long-standing issue in our workforce. Previous research has shown that every year, 1 in 6 people of working age experience a mental health problem and that 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.

Over the next five years Mind’s Taking Care of Business campaign aims to improve working environments and working lives, transforming attitudes to mental wellbeing at work. The campaign already has the backing of big businesses such as BT and AXA, trade unions such as the TUC as well as Dragon’s Den entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne.

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."

Mind is calling for:

  • Recognition that mental health problems do affect every workforce.
  • 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.
  • Employers to promote a culture where employees can discuss stress and mental distress openly without fear of the consequences.
  • 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.

For more information about Mind's Taking Care of Business campaign, interviews or case studies please contact the Mind media team.

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