Could a change in career help improve your mental health?

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Long hours and stressful situations can impact on your mental health. So how can you improve your well-being?

What do you do when stress at work spills over into your home life? Penny Charlton, 59, a senior administrator in the public sector from South Shields, says: “You get to my level and there’s an expectation that you will work over your hours. 

“I’ll get a message from my boss at 2am, saying, ‘I don’t expect you to reply at this hour’ – but then why send it? It sends my anxiety level shooting up. I wake up with palpitations whether there are messages or not.”

Now Ms Charlton is changing to a less stressful role, even though it will mean a drop in salary. “I don’t want to keep waking up and dreading going to work,” she says.

She is not alone. The mental health charity Mind surveyed more than 44,000 employees in 2018-19 and found problems were rife.  “Poor mental health is now the No 1reason for staff absence,” says Emma Mamo, Mind’s head of workplace well-being. “Half [48pc] of the people surveyed said they have experienced a mental health problem in their current job.

“The survey also revealed that only half of those who had experienced poor mental health had talked to their employer about it, suggesting that as many as one in four UK workers is struggling in silence.”

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) figures show that 602,000 workers in the UK suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2018-19 and 12.8 million working days were lost.

If work is affecting your mental well-being, what should you do about it?

Find the cause

Experts pinpoint the most common causes of stress at work as:

  • Long hours They can become habitual but studies have found that long hours are frequently a stress factor 
  • Lack of control Unrealistic targets, no involvement in decision-making, no account taken of suggestions
  • Lack of time Unreasonable deadlines
  • Lack of staff Not enough people employed to do the job properly
  • Overload Too heavy a workload for individuals
  • Lack of support A feeling that employers do not care

What can you do?

If you feel able, try to sit back and consider a plan, such as learning to say “no” and ensuring you have breaks. Mind has ideas on how to tackle the situation, as does the UK-wide organisation Mental Health at Work. 

Employers have a legal responsibility to minimise the risk of stress-related illness to employees.1 If your employer does not have strategies in place, contact a workplace representative to suggest that they should.

“If you don’t get the support you need, or if you are treated differently, demoted or even lose your job because of disclosing a mental health problem, seek advice from Acas,” says Ms Mamo.

Should you change jobs?

If you feel undervalued and burned-out, it may be time to find a new job for your health’s sake – mental or otherwise. 

However, if you like your career but current working patterns are the problem, ask your employer for strategies to reduce your stress.

Help from employers

Telegraph Media Group, for instance, has been training Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) with MHFA England since 2018, aiming to provide a framework within which staff can feel supported if they feel under strain.