Why do UK workers suffer in silence?

by Dr Zain Sikafi, CEO and co-founder, Mynurva

General awareness of mental health issues is growing, fuelled most recently by the rise of high-profile figures speaking out about their own mental health problems. While this is positive news, the fact remains that mental health in the workplace remains an important issue in need of attention.

The Prime Minister’s 2017 ‘Thriving for Work’ report shed some light on the gravity of the problems when it revealed that a staggering 300,000 people lose their jobs each year due to mental health problems. And the cost on the overall economy is not insignificant either. In fact, according to Deloitte, up to £99 billion is lost each year as a result.

Negative stigma continues to surround the topic, preventing many of those who are struggling with mental health problems from speaking out. This is especially true of people working within high-pressure professions, where the stress of a demanding job is most likely to take a toll on a worker’s mental wellbeing.

The healthcare and finance services are but two of the many professions where mental health is still largely considered a ‘taboo’. Unfortunately, this has severe repercussions on the wellbeing of employees, as highlighted by the tragic suicides by junior doctors within the NHS over the past few years. Meanwhile, according to research, jobs in financial services are 44% more likely to lead to stress-related illnesses than the average UK job.

Just how common is mental ill-health in the workplace?

No one is immune to the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, be it a young mother struggling to cope with life’s daily pressures to an entrepreneur in the formative stages of their new business. Mental ill-health is a serious issue that does not discriminate, and that is why it should receive the same amount of attention as a physical illness.

To find out the true extent of the issue, HealthTech company Mynurva recently conducted a survey to see just how many people in the UK workplace have suffered from mental ill-health, and how many have sought treatment for their symptoms.

The responses to the survey were eye-opening; almost a third (32%) of all UK adults in full-time employment claimed to have suffered from mental health problems in the workplace. In real terms, that amounts to 7.5 million people across the country. Yet, despite the high prevalence of mental ill-health, an even higher proportion (37%) of those who are suffering – or have suffered in the past – have never sought any professional help.

Meanwhile, men are more likely to keep their mental health issues from colleagues. According to the research, 42% of working men dealing with a mental health symptom have never seen a mental health professional for their issue, compared with 32% of women. Sadly, stigma and misconceptions clearly continue to present obstacles to those dealing with mental ill-health – particularly for male professionals – despite strong efforts to break down the barriers and encourage people to speak out.

Why don’t employees speak out

With a significant number of professional workers not seeking the help they need, Mynurva sought to understand why this was the case. We found that 55% of employees coping with mental ill-health fear that admitting their problems to a manager would hinder their chances of a promotion.

Meanwhile, 58% of people think that if their mental health problems became common knowledge in the office, it would negatively impact their relationships with colleagues. In order to hide their struggles, nearly half of male workers (48%) and 37% of female workers admitted that they have taken sick days or used their holiday allowance without revealing that mental health issues were the reason why.

Tackling mental health in the workplace

What can employers take away from this research – and how can we as a nation tackle the negative stigma that continues to surround the topic? The evidence suggests that mental health is still a taboo in many workplaces, causing employees to hide symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.

Combatting the negative stigma and encouraging an open environment should therefore be a priority for all organisations – regardless of the sector or size of a company. Clearly, there is a pressing need to devote time and resources to create an open workplace where employees can not only access professional support, but also enjoy the freedom to openly discuss their concerns with managers and even colleagues.

Of course, confidentially remains a key concern for many workers, with 58% of employees worried their mental health problems would not remain confidential if they were to discuss them in the workplace. To overcome this barrier, workplaces should be promoting alternative avenues of support, encouraging employees to speak to their GP if they experience any symptoms of mental ill-health in the workplace, rather than letting them suffer in silence.

Alternatively, live video counselling services like Mynurva offer discreet counselling sessions for those who struggle to find the time to arrange an appointment around their busy working schedule – or don’t feel comfortable physically visiting a healthcare professional. These alternative solutions provide the convenience of flexible appointment times outside of traditional work hours, allowing professionals to talk to a counsellor or therapist from the comfort of their own home.

While positive steps have been taken within all sectors of society to encourage people to speak out about their struggles, there is still much more to be done in the workplace. Dealing with stress, anxiety and depression is difficult – particularly when workers feel forced to keep their mental ill-health a secret and endure these symptoms on their own. Making mental health a priority is therefore key to fostering a healthier workplace culture and boosting employee wellbeing.

Having worked as a GP for several years, Dr Zain Sikafi founded Mynurva to improve access to mental health support. Mynurva provides fast access to therapy or counselling, confidentially, securely and discreetly, via its live video platform. There are no waiting rooms, no travelling is required, and the service is confidential, discrete and secure.