Research from Bupa Global as part of its Executive Wellbeing Index has revealed that as many as 64% senior business leaders who have experienced symptoms of mental ill-health during the pandemic have turned to potentially unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Two in five board members in the UK have turned to alcohol or drugs during the crisis, while others have been using cigarettes or vaping, excessive exercise, over or under-eating, or gambling, the research shows.
The study also revealed the extent of the mental health impact of the pandemic. Eight in 10 (78%) have experienced symptoms such as fatigue, lack of motivation, mood swings and disturbed sleep. Triggers include business-related worries, economic recession, protecting the health of loved ones, coping with reduced personal freedoms and fear of financial insecurity.
Worryingly, despite increased mental health awareness during the pandemic, many are still reluctant to speak out and seek help when they need it, the research also showed. Two in five board executives (42%) said they believe it would damage their reputation if it became known they were struggling, while a similar number are concerned about how asking for help would impact their professional or social reputation.
In the absence of support from friends and family in recent times, many are trying to cope alone. Only one in four (27%) of those affected have spoken to a medical professional, while one in three (36%) admitted they self-medicate because they can’t talk to anyone about their mental health.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the number of people at risk of alcohol addiction has jumped to 8.5 million during the pandemic, with Bupa Global’s research suggesting a large proportion of business leaders could be at risk too.
Call to action
Dr Luke James, Bupa Global’s medical director said: “The pandemic is taking its toll on business leaders. With complex networks of colleagues, investors, affiliates as well as their own families to consider, it’s no surprise that many have felt that they must ‘keep calm and carry on’, rather than facing up to mental health issues head on.
“At the same time, many of the mechanisms people typically use to cope with such stress and anxieties such as seeing friends and family, going to the gym, on holiday and even going to work have been diminished, and replaced with other, more addictive substitutes such as increased alcohol consumption, self-medication, substance abuse, and gambling.
“But while self-medication can seem like a quick-fix solution that may help with anxiety or depression in the short term, it won’t solve the underlying mental health issues and could ultimately make things worse. When it comes to mental ill-health, early diagnosis and treatment improves outcomes, and as we face even greater challenges to our mental health over winter, I’d urge anyone who might be struggling to come forward.”
Poppy Jaman, CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance said: “Leading by example is crucial to breaking down the stigma attached to mental illness. Encouraging compassionate dialogue which leads to positive action is crucial to creating psychologically safe workplace cultures where everyone can flourish. Workplaces that nurture talent, train line managers, put mental health and wellbeing on the Board agenda are building resilient businesses which in turn will be able to face these challenging times.”
If you or your colleagues at work need help with managing stress, I provide one-on-one help to individuals or lead discussions with teams showing them how to manage their issues. Contact me for help and more information.