Stress, burnout, depression; they are all very real. To suggest that depression is ‘in the mind’ or that it can be avoided by taking a week or two off work is both insensitive and ignorant. The world has witnessed the devastating effects that depression can have with the tragic news of beloved comedy genius Robin Williams this week. For someone who provided so much joy to many to be suffering in silence for so long is upsetting and shocking.
The stigma attached to being depressed or admitting to suffering from stress forces many sufferers to keep quiet and even ignore the problem without seeking proper help. While reports confirm that Robin Williams did receive treatment for his alcohol adiction, his mental health problems were very much still present in his life.
Depression is essentially the “severe, typically prolonged, feelings of despondency and dejection” while stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse demanding circumstances”. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a staggering 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide. Whether you personally suffer from stress or depression or you know someone who does, you must take it seriously and seek professional help.
The effects of mental illness in the workplace
Stress is said to be the number one ‘sick day reason’ by employees today and a report by the charity Depression Alliance, which conducted a survey on 1,200 people, found that “one third of employees struggle to cope at work due to depression or stress”. Reports also suggest that depression costs European businesses £77 billion per year (2014 stats, Kind’s College London).
Industry professionals are campaigning for employers to become more aware of mental illnesses and the effects of stress in the workplace and to provide assistance and support to those in need. Certain employers have committed to helping their employees through effective mental health policies including Unilever and Barclays Bank, but in the UK in particular, the general ethos is to avoid talking about personal problems, and it is this that needs to change.
Another study published by Chiba University in Japan found that office workers who sit in front of a computer screen for more than 5 hours each day have a higher tendency to suffer from anxiety and depression. This is a shocking statistic and yet another reason why support needs to be made available in the workplace.
It has been suggested that a shorter working day or simply less time spent in front of a computer screen would have a dramatic effect. Sweden – a country known for its healthy work-life balance – is in the process of embarking on a 6 hour work day with full pay as an experiment. More countries should take note of Sweden’s efforts and realise that that there is more to life that working long hours in tough conditions.
In agreement, Professor John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health has stated that a four-day week would be the best move to beat stress and mental health problems.
Could working less hours be the first positive move in the fight against depression and stress at work? The general consensus is for the proposed reduced working week, but in a tough economic climate there are many factors to consider.
The recent news of Robin Williams’ death has brought depression and the severity of mental illness to the forefront of the public, and it is now imperative that drastic action is taken to raise awareness, provide free support to those in need, and to ease the pressure faced by many workers.
If your employer provides mental health support programs please do let us know about it in the comments section below.