Saturday, 26 July 2014

Work and mental health: help or hindrance?

It is widely documented that working, whether paid or not, boosts mental health.  It gives the person a social status, structure, something to keep them physically and mentally active, opportunities to interact with others and achievement.  If the work is paid it obviously brings about a financial reward which contributes towards living costs and treats.  The Royal College of Psychiatrists expresses these benefits and even suggests that the health risks of not working are far greater than other killer diseases.  There is also an economic benefit if more people worked, cutting down the amount of benefits issued, and the money earned circulating back into the economy.

As somebody who offers information to those suffering from anxiety and depression I always express how important work is to our health.  For those who are still very anxious of the idea of working I suggest voluntary work or entering employment on a part time basis.  However they work, whether it be for one day a week or full time commitment (providing that they are not over-worked) it is vitally important.

But how can I give this advice to people when I hear suffering as a result of work?

I am very lucky that I escaped (yes, escaped!) the retail industry and returned to health care.  Our staff levels were cut to dangerous numbers, which made us feel unsafe at work, and there was always a threat of being sacked for small mistakes, redundancies and shop closures.  I learnt that it was the lack of control I had over my work and lack of job security that caused my anxiety to sky rocket and depression to return more frequently.  Whilst I am now very lucky to be in a job that is not only secure but expects me to use my initiative which, in turn, has made me more mentally healthy and confident.  For many of my friends and ex-colleagues the stress and lack of appreciation is still bringing them down.

It is not only the retail industry that I see this happening (I will say that this does not apply over the whole industry) but everywhere else.  I have seen people working for the council, fire service, healthcare service, banks, and many other sectors suffering from stress.  More often than not this is over job security, fearing when their contract will be terminated and how they will survive, and being overworked.  I have seen people look pale, beaten down, thin and on the brink of breakdown because their work life is proving too much.

I have said since I started campaigning for better mental health awareness that work related stress needs to be taken incredibly seriously.  It is a health and safety issue.  If people are stressed this can cause a drop in performance, increase the number of mistakes, increase staff absences and the risk of developing a mental illness.  It is worrisome that employers leave this mental health hazard open and risk their staff to a lifelong, debilitating condition.  If employers stress the mental health implications of physical injuries at work then why can they not put measures in place to protect employee’s mental health in the first instance?

How can this be ignored when:
  • Around 25 working days are lost per case of stress
  • Factors intrinsic to work is the leading factor contributing to mental illness
  • Large workplaces have the highest prevalence of stress, small workplaces having the lowest
  • Workload is the leading cause of stress, with lack of managerial support coming second


Further reading
Health and Safety Executive
Royal College of Psychiatrists

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