By Barry Lord @Bazneto
Mental health is increasingly raised in Ireland and becoming less stigmatised in the media – but how much is really being done to address this issue in the workplace?
While many Irish businesses state the importance of prioritising and promoting good mental health awareness, ordinary workers believe there is still a sense of shame attached to opening up about persistent feelings of anxiety and depression.
One Dublin mother-of-three who has experienced stress in the workplace, told us how she had often gone in to the toilets at the office to cry, just to let her pent-up feelings out.
But that like many others in offices up and down the country, her health had been harmed by long working hours – and a high workload – a factor that seems to have worsened in recent years.
I was working in an office where people were not taking breaks. They didn’t feel they had time to and there was a sense of pressure that if you took a break, you just weren’t working hard enough.
“I was seeing my children less because of long work hours and in the end it all just piled up on me and I crashed.”
When the mother, who says she ‘crashed’, she actually means she felt forced to leave her job. Like so many, her health had been affected by too much stress, which can have serious long-term effects.
She did not feel that her workplace, in the financial sector, would assist her if she admitted the pressure had become too much, so the only option left or her was to walk away.
There is also a fear among many workers that by admitting to a problem, there is a risk of diminishing future job prospects.
So how is this issue being tackled?
It is clear that we recognise in this country there is an issue that should be confronted and there is still a great deal to achieve.
In 2007, research consultancy company Millward Brown commissioned an investigation into the policies and guidelines being used to address the impact of negative mental health in the workplace.
Their findings and recommendations were published in a 54 page report entitled ‘Mental Health in the Workplace’ available online.
What the report showed was a clear lack of effective policy and guidelines for employers to abide by and signs pointed to an urgent need for Irish companies to develop and implement effective policies in relation to the mental health needs of their employees.
It was clear that not only did workers fear that by speaking out about their mental health concerns, they may be labelled ‘unreliable’ or ‘undependable’ therefore jeopardising not only their current position in the company, but any future employment prospects.
Since this report was compiled and thanks to the hard work undertaken by organisations such as Sea Change Ireland, it might be safe to assume that attitudes to mental health issues and company policy have changed for the better.
However, recent statistics still show that there is work to be done.
Another woman told Ireland Today: “I worked in an office where some executives were working from 8am until 11am at night. Their workload was so high. You could visibly see it was having an impact on them. They weren’t seeing their families, friends – this workplace actually did the opposite of making sure people’s mental health was okay.
“Many companies are just working people far too hard.”
According to Aware, the national organisation that provides support and education on depression-related conditions, they found in 2015 that while half of Irish businesses considered stress and mental health a priority in their workplace, 84% did not have a wellness policy or wellness programme in place to help employees.
They found that 48% of workers were more willing to openly discuss financial woes and another 23% admitted to finding it easier to talk relationship problems with colleagues and employers than their mental health.
In fact, their research found that only 18% of companies had discussed issues of depression or similar anxieties with an employee.
In response to these statistics, Dominic Layden, Aware CEO, said: “Mental health is a key issue in the workplace and probably the majority of senior managers working in Ireland have at some point been concerned about the wellbeing of a colleague.
“There can be a real fear about how best to tackle the issue and Aware wants companies to understand that prioritising wellness at work has benefits for all.”
Ireland Today would like to get a picture of how workers are feeling today. Do you feel enough is being done in your workplace, school or university to look after mental health?
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