Stress prevalence – on the increase?
By now, pretty much everyone who follows the health news on television, the broadsheet newspapers and on internet sites like the Huffington Post, BBC News and others will be familiar with the term ‘stress epidemic’. But is the prevalence of stress really that bad? Is the country’s workforce really feeling stressed to such a dramatic extent that it can be classified as epidemic?
According to the mental health charity Mind, there’s definitely a lot of it around. The charity – who promote mental health at work – estimate that 1 in 6 people in the workplace is dealing with a mental health problem like stress, anxiety or depression. In terms of stress specifically, it’s difficult to know the exact number of people who are dealing with the issue, since there are factors that obscure it – for instance when people may not know they have a problem or have not told anyone about it. However, the numbers of people who suffer stress in the workplace are undoubtedly high, and Mind’s extensive research into stress means that while precise statistics are unavailable, they have identified the scale of the problem.
And in England last year, hospitals saw a marked rise in admissions for stress, with the rate up 7% on the previous year. The increase is widely believed to be related to economic downturn – which would make sense given that many people report feeling they have to work harder in recessionary times. Figures also bear this out – to the extent that, according to Health and Social care Information (HSCIS) figures indicate that admissions have risen 47% since 2007 -8, which of course is when the economic downturn began.
Fighting stress in the workplace
Unfortunately, there’s no ‘silver bullet’ type single solution that will suddenly eliminate stress in the workplace.Perhaps the most significant development of recent times has been that its scale has now been acknowledged, and as a result, stigma and misconceptions about it have lessened to a good degree.
A big part of dealing with the issue is of course providing a working environment and job design that have focus on stresss minimisation. Many employers also offer access to an employee assistance programme for their workforce. These are usually provided by a third-party organisation with expertise in counselling and employee support, and in most cases are there to help with issues employees may be experienceing including things like bereavement, divorce addiction problems and other things that can have an adverse effect on wellbeing.
Providing support, amd also promoting mental health in the workplace are both highly effective in keeping awareness of the issues raised and developing a supprting atmosphere and conditions where people feel they can be open. But as employees ourselves, it’s also up to us as individuals to see what we can do to reduce our own stress levels by understanding things like our stress triggers. As individual employees there are also effective means of reducing stress such as looking at how we organise our working day making small adjustments as necessary. On top of that there are many relaxation techniques that we can use outwith working hours to increase a sense of wellbeing. Having healthy lifestyle habits like keeping within the recommended alcohol consumption and ensuring we get enough rest at night can also help us in terms of feeling ready to cope with the demands of the working day.
In summary, stress has been acknowledged as a fairly widespread issue in the workplace. But with continuingmental health promotion, as well as better awareness of how we can manage our own stress, hopefully stress levels as a whole will begin to see a reduction over time.
This article was written by Jen Jones who specialises in business medical insurance and workplace wellbeing topics including stress management and employee assistance.