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When do work related mental health difficulties surface?

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And more importantly, as a leader how can you manage these issues?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), UK revealed in 2014/15 that 440,000 people reported that work-related stress was making them ill - 40% of all work-related illness (NHS UK). Population studies highlight a surge in antidepressants/anxiolytics in working age adults. Clinicians see more complex stress/anxiety/depression in working adults. 

Mind and body are irrevocably entwined. Prevention is invaluable - cure is never comparable. Stress/anxiety release hormones like Cortisol- Short bursts are protective, prolonged release affects our body/functioning. 

When/how can workplace-based mental health problems manifest?

1. Bodily changes: Katie thought flutters/palpitations, dry mouth, headaches, aches/pains, altered appetite/sleep was early menopause- eventually, workplace bullying/harassment came to the fore.

2. Personality: Matt started excessive smoking/drinking , sexual promiscuity and social media indiscretions when under pressure to meet work deadlines. Alex’s social skills/confidence plummeted after being sidelined for being gay.

3. Disorganisation: Naz’s concentration, memory and judgement skills at work plummeted when pregnant, when management implied her job was at risk. 

4. Altered routine and habits: Raj developed low energy/motivation/ confidence, lost interest in food/ sleep/sex /self-care , when he was indirectly discriminated against by colleagues.

5. Sickness: Jane took time off work and colleagues called her lazy. She was actually depressed consequent to isolation at work.

Do genders project issues differently?

Personality, gender, culture and past experiences affect responsiveness styles to work stress. ADAA report that women are significantly more likely to eat more and talk to family/friends. Men are significantly more likely to have more sex and use illicit drugs.

There is higher documented evidence of suicidal ideation/attempted suicide in the LGBT population.
A social psychiatry study associated psychiatric disturbances directly to workplace bullying in males, with a multifactorial genesis (incorporating a cultural context) in women.

Employers are trying to make working environments conducive for a good work-life balance. How can we help ourselves?

Help your people

1. Be aware and reflective 
Be aware of individual triggers for stress/anxiety. Understand how past experiences and individual temperaments affect responsiveness. Balance expectations/hopes with realistic goals when it comes to work promotions/bonuses. 

2. Work to live, not live to work: be mindful
A consistent, regulated pace of life tends to alleviate anxiety/stress. Be aware of and practice observing moments without judgement. Take brief breaks from work and move away from the work desk to enjoy lunch. Workplaces could incorporate ‘mindfulness spaces’. Leave work on time and behind you. If working from home, adhere to time/space boundaries. Identify what helps you relax and slot it into your daily schedule.

3. Keep active and organised 
Physical activity releases the ‘feel-good’ chemical Seretonin, helping anxiety and mood. Run up the stairs. Consider an activity ‘away-day’ from work to bond with colleagues and boost Seretonin. Plan ahead, keep to schedules- simple strategies can contain anticipatory stress/anxiety. 

4. Be creative 
Scanning studies on brain regions shows that when specific overlapping areas light up in response to music/ artwork, it is experienced as pleasurable/rewarding. Music and art in personal lives/environments promote mental health and recovery from illness. Creative arts can reduce the impact of illness and pain. Group Art programs at work can promote socialisation and innovation. Our research suggested that a combination of globally applicable music and well- evidenced therapeutic techniques may be a useful adjunct for emotional processing in milder forms of anxiety, depression, adjustment and emotional dysregulation- the basis for my novel self-guided, music-based therapeutic technique called 'CAPE: Creative Arts for Processing Emotions', intended to incorporate emotional well-being into one’s existing lifestyle.

5. Sharing and giving 
Connective experiences like team-building / community development work release the feel-good hormone Oxytocin- great for socialisation, confidence, self-worth and emotional support. Join that team activity/start fund-raising for your local charity!

Ramya Mohan

By Ramya Mohan

Dr Ramya Mohan is a senior consultant psychiatrist and medical educator with the National Health Service UK (NHS) since 2008.

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