Ireland ranks in the highest top 10 countries worldwide for the percentage of the population affected by anxiety disorders (6.3 per cent), according to the latest research from the World Health Organization (WHO).**
Research by laya healthcare, carried out in Ireland, found that eight in 10 (80 per cent) adults have been affected by anxiety, with almost half (44 per cent) admitting that their mental wellbeing is of real concern to them. Furthermore, one in 10 (11 per cent) admit to letting everyday struggles get on top of them.
Money comes out on top as the main reason for anxiety in almost half of the survey respondents (49 per cent). Poor sleep (46 per cent) came next, being overweight (43 per cent), and spending too much time on social media (20 per cent) are also having a negative impact.
"These findings really shine a light on the need to open up the conversation around mental wellbeing in Ireland and the supports available to people," says counselling psychologist and clinical lead for laya healthcare's 24/7 Mental Wellbeing Support Programme, Dr Sarah O'Neill. "Knowing and understanding what triggers feelings of anxiety can help prevent it but also knowing there is help at hand is hugely important."
Laya healthcare’s 24/7 Mental Wellbeing Support Programme provides members who have joined or renewed on or after 1st July, with access to a nationwide network of fully qualified, accredited and experienced counsellors and psychotherapists to help with everyday issues that may be impacting their wellbeing. Members can also access a panel of experts experienced in a variety of fields, including financial and tax advisors, legal professionals, career counsellors and more.
The discussion around mental health may be hindered by attitudes uncovered by the laya healthcare survey. Stigma around anxiety is still a problem according to 75 per cent of respondents, with 42 per cent feeling they’d be judged by work colleagues if they knew, and 82 per cent of people agreeing that the conversation around mental health in Ireland needs to change.
Dr O’Neill points out that anxiety is perfectly normal, however. “Anxiety is the body and mind's natural reaction to threat or danger,” she explains.
“In the appropriate situation, high levels of anxiety - even panic - are considered normal and helpful if it prompts us to escape from danger. Anxiety in performance situations such as interviews and exams can help us perform to the best of our ability. The problems arise when people's response or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual danger of the situation, or that it is generated when there is no danger present - a disproportionate response.”
These disproportionate responses can be especially problematic in a workplace situation, particularly when people have difficulties discussing mental health issues with work colleagues.
Some of the impacts of living with anxiety were revealed by the laya healthcare research with over half (56 per cent) struggling to sleep, almost a third feeling “hopeless about the future”. Worryingly, nearly one in five (17 per cent) drink more alcohol to help them feel better, with 14 per cent taking sick leave from work. Sadly, five per cent of those surveyed have lost a job because of their anxiety.
Top 5 impacts of anxiety:
- Difficulty sleeping: 56 per cent
- Difficulty concentrating: 34 per cent
- Feeling completely hopeless about the future: 32 per cent
- Alienating myself from friends and family: 25 per cent
- Created problems with my family: 21 per cent
“We all experience workplace stress and anxiety from time to time,” says Dr O’Neill. “Sometimes, it helps to think about it as an elastic band. An elastic band is designed to stretch and come back to itself again. But if that elastic band is stretched too long and then if one more thing comes along, and that can be a really small thing, it can be the thing that causes the elastic band to snap.”
There are a number of practical steps people can take to manage workplace stress, according to Dr O’Neill. The first is to improve time management and organisational management skills. “They can really facilitate us in meeting some of those demands and challenges,” she says.
The next is looking after work life balance. “That’s a challenge a lot of us struggle with, it really is about finding a recipe that work best for you,” she adds. “We know that the really small and easy-to-forget steps can be so important - making sure we’re sleeping OK, our diet is OK, making sure we’re making time to engage in interests and hobbies. When we’re going through periods of stress or distress, those self-care steps, those simple and important steps are often the first things we let go. The irony is that it’s at the time when we need them most.”
Mental health difficulties can affect us all but there's always someone to talk to
Reaching out to others is another strategy. “Having a conversation with people who can affect change, who can support you, who can maybe address some of those difficulties can be really important. In a workplace setting it can be occupational health, a line manager, or a HR department – somebody you feel comfortable talking to.”
An increasing number of employers are implementing laya healthcare’s 24/7 Mental Wellbeing Support Programme in the workplace and making it available to employees. Many of them are combining it with the laya healthcare Mental Health First Responders programme (Reach)
Mental health first responders can recognise the early signs of mental health issues and provide assistance when someone is in crisis or struggling.
The Reach programme helps the first responders develop key skills and, using a five-step approach, learn how to: reach out to someone in distress; encourage those in need to engage; assess for risk; connect the person to appropriate professional help; and help them access the supports needed.
“Mental health difficulties can affect us all but there’s always someone to talk to,” says Dr O’Neill. “It’s really good to talk and taking that first step can be the first step in bringing about change.”
These issues will be discussed at the Let's Talk Mental Health in the Workplace event on October 16th at the Gibson Hotel, Dublin, where mental wellbeing and senior HR professionals will identify the supports and structures needed to improve their organisation's mental health strategies.