Pandemic marks major ‘generational shift’ in attitudes to mental health for 2021

24 February 2021 . International

  • UK’s business elite have become more supportive of family’s mental health due to the pandemic
  • Almost seven in 10 detected mental ill-health in partners or children during 2020
  • As a result they’re reshaping their expectations, reducing pressures on children
  • Findings come from Bupa Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index, with experts urging people to access mental health support for themselves and their family
Mother talking to daughter

UK business leaders are casting off generational stigmas to better support family members with their mental health in 2021.

According to research from premium health insurer Bupa Global, as part of its Executive Wellbeing Index nearly two thirds of business leaders (63%) have changed their perception of mental health since the pandemic began and are more aware of their family’s emotional needs.

Previously, for half of UK executives (49%), speaking about mental health in their family was seen as a sign of weakness, with two in five (42%) feeling that it would damage their family’s reputation.

But now the impact of the pandemic, including reduced business travel, more family time and many having their own struggles with mental health has led to two in three (68%) being able to identify symptoms of mental ill-health in their partner or children, including fatigue, disturbed sleep, anger or impatience or low mood.1

And this has sparked a ‘generational shift’ in attitudes to mental health, with many now committing to supporting their family’s emotional needs going forward, in a marked change to their own upbringings.

Breaking mental health stigmas

Many senior leaders are now planning to set a good example in better managing their own mental health, and want to be more open and approachable about the issues with their children and partners.2

Talking about issues and sharing experiences not only helps address mental health problems but can also bring families together. Over two thirds of leaders (68%) believe their family has become a lot closer since the pandemic and 58 per cent are considering how much time they spend away from the family home in future.

Great expectations

Furthermore, the research showed that those surveyed are eager to strengthen their relationship with their children, compared with their own parents – half of them (51%) admitted to not having a close relationship with own their parents when growing up, and two in five (39%) said they themselves had felt under pressure to live up to their parents’ reputations and to follow a specific path.

The impact of the pandemic means that now, a quarter (24%) of UK business executives won't put pressure on their children to follow in their footsteps and fewer than one in 10 want their children to be like them.3

Dr Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa Global said: “While high expectations of children can be healthy, putting them under too much pressure can be harmful. So it’s really encouraging to see that many of these leaders are keen to “break the cycle” that they may have experienced with their own parents – where mental health was seen as a taboo subject and pressure to follow a specific path was high.”

“This year has really made people think about what is important – family, friends, and of course health. If we look at where we are – particularly when it comes to the challenges of home schooling – we can see that children and teenagers have faced some of the toughest challenges of the pandemic and that their mental health has suffered as a result.

“Our research shows that parents are recognising this and are realigning their expectations accordingly, which marks a watershed moment and generational shift in how mental health is perceived, which is very encouraging. Becoming aware that you or someone close to you is struggling is the first step towards getting the help they need.

“At Bupa Global we have multiple resources for our health insurance customers affected by mental health issues and help is available 24/7, so I’d urge any parents who are concerned about a family member to seek help sooner rather than later.”

Advice on managing your children’s mental health during the pandemic

Here are Dr Pablo Vandenabeele’s tips on supporting children with their mental health.

Acknowledge their frustrations

Parents instinctively lean towards best-case-scenario responses when talking to their children. However, honest and open discussions are often more successful.

Remember, you can’t control what happens in the wider world, but you can control how you communicate with your children about any challenges they are facing. Though it may feel difficult at the time, children will benefit more from honest conversations in an understanding home environment.

Be mindful of your words

It’s important for parents to listen and respond to any concerns without judgement. Run through the conversation in your head, or with a friend beforehand, to ensure you feel comfortable with the topics you are tackling and to help avoid them closing down.

Have difficult conversations on neutral ground

If you recognise signs of stress and anxiety, then early intervention is key. Avoid their bedroom or the kitchen table and find a neutral space – such as an early evening walk – to open up the conversation.

Be sure to let them properly process the chat, and let them know they can come back to you later on if needs be.

Put the right support in place

Don’t be afraid to get help if your family is struggling to cope. Bupa Global has multiple resources for those affected by mental health issues – including its Global Virtual Care service which provides confidential access to a global network of doctors available 24/7 in multiple languages - enabling you or your child to speak to a specialist at a time that suits you.

Bupa Global is the first international health insurer to remove both annual and monetary limits across our plans for in-patient and day-patient mental health treatment, and we also now include cover for ADHD, addiction and self-inflicted injuries, ensuring that more people than ever before can access the right help. For families, the Elite Global Health Plan is ideal as it covers two children up to the age of 10 at no additional cost, subject to underwriting.


Notes to editor

  1. Of UK board level executives with families, 29% saw symptoms of fatigue, 20% saw disturbed sleep, 17% saw low mood, 19% saw anger or impatience
  2. 63% of UK business execs plan to better manage their own mental health for the good of their family. 31% will be more open and approachable about the issues
  3. 24% won’t put pressure on their children regarding their career path. 1 in 8 said they want their child to be like them

About the research

Research conducted via CATI by Opinium research between 30 June – 29 July 2020 among 450 UK, USA, France, UAE and Egypt-based HNWIs defined as those with over £1M in salary and investable assets. Of the 450, 322 are board level executives. Including 100 UK HNWIs, of which 72 are board level executives (also referred to as business leaders in this press release).

About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.

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

Health insurance accounts for 17.9m customers and contributes 72% of our revenue. In health provision, we operate clinics, dental centres and hospitals in some markets serving another 13.6m customers. We also care for around 20,000 residents in our aged care businesses in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Spain.

We directly employ around 84,000 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.

For more information, visit www.bupa.com.

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