Two thirds of business leaders have suffered from mental health conditions

10 October 2018 . International

Research by Bupa Global, the international health insurer, reveals that 64% of senior business leaders have suffered from mental health conditions including anxiety, stress and depression, with work often cited as a contributor to this.

  • 58% of business leaders say that in their position it’s hard to talk about mental health
  • 1 in 4 people feel less support for mental health issues since becoming more senior
  • Sufferers fear that talking about mental health would affect perceptions of their capabilities and careers prospects 
Man stressed in workplace

To mark World Mental Health Day, Bupa Global conducted a study with 1,556 global business leaders to uncover the challenges that come with seniority in the workplace and the related pressures such as responsibility and working internationally.

58% of respondents said that they felt it was harder for leaders to talk about mental health and a quarter of people feel less supported around the issue of mental health since becoming more senior.

The most common barriers among sufferers to addressing mental health at work is the fear that it would reflect negatively on their ability to cope as a leader, concern that it would be career limiting and fear of being judged by others.

Patrick Watt, Corporate Director, Bupa Global, said: “Business leaders are not immune to mental health challenges, and in some case can be especially vulnerable. Pressures that come with the job, such as frequent travel and being away from family, can be overwhelming. In addition there’s a worrying association between mental health and inability to lead, which makes the topic taboo. We need to openly address the obvious link between workplace pressure and mental health, challenge perceptions around mental health and leadership and ensure that there are a range of services available to support senior people.”

According to City Mental Health Alliance, 44% of employers are seeing an increase in reported mental health problems. In addition, 50% of long-term absence in non-manual workers accounted for by stress, demonstrating the cost to businesses of failing to provide suitable support for employees suffering with mental health conditions.

Nigel Jones, Chairman, City Mental Health Alliance, said: “Poor mental health and illness doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to any one of us, at any time, including senior business leaders. Stress, anxiety and depression are the biggest causes of sickness absence and can have a devastating impact on the lives of people affected. We need to create mentally healthy, open workplace cultures where even the most senior of staff feel able to access support. Not only will this help them, it will role model healthy behaviours for more junior members of the company.”

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: “Everyone at some point in their lives will be affected by poor mental health, whether that’s experiencing it personally or supporting someone else. Recent CBI survey data revealed that there has been a four-fold increase in the number of UK firms with 5% or more of their workforce disclosing a mental health condition – from 11% in 2013 up to 40% in 2017.

“It’s encouraging that more people are vocal about mental health at work and that we’re beginning to see a real cultural shift for the better. But disclosure is not enough. Employers need to do even more to discuss the issue, and there can be no better way than for business leaders to share their own experiences. Actions like these help remove the stigma which sadly still exists and can prevent people from seeking support. This is both a business and societal issue and one where employers play an important role.”

About the research

Research of 1,556 senior decisions-makers (senior manager+) in companies of 10 or more employees across the USA, UK, China, and Mexico. Conducted by Opinium Research between 21 and 25 May 2018.

About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives and making a better world.

We are an international healthcare company serving over 31 million customers worldwide. With no shareholders, we reinvest profits into providing more and better healthcare for the benefit of current and future customers.

We directly employ around 85,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Chile, Poland, New Zealand, Hong Kong SAR, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico, the US, Middle East and Ireland. We also have associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

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