Is work making us mentally ill ?

February 2012

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure, It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us most.  As you let your light shine, you unconsciously give others permission to do the same, Liberated from your fear, your presence liberates others.  Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech 1994

Looking at our emotional health at work, I was intrigued by a recent UK study by Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD)

on supporting mental health in the workplace.  In 2011, they commissioned YouGov to survey over 2000 employees to identify their experiences & attitudes about the degree of mental health at work. 26% reported mental health difficulties, with women higher than men. Rates were also higher in the 35 to 44 year age group.

CIPD also cite the CAUSES of mental health problems

CIPD says 15% of those surveyed say the cause was problems at work, 20% report cause was their personal lives & 65% report a combination of the both. Gender differences were shown here too with women more likely to say cause was due to personal reasons whereas men more likely to say work was the cause of their poor mental health.    This study shows that work can be causing undue  mental health problems which creates implications for organisations in their legislative duty of care to staff.

Also a recent article on Stuff

showed the mounting costs of mental illness on organisations, estimating the cost to organisations in the region of NZ$2000 per employee a year in terms off  sickness absence, reduced productivity at work and replacing staff who leave their jobs because of mental ill health.

 So why is work becoming such a source of difficult mental health?

Is the problem a work issue or is the problem within us, the workforce? I wondered what happened to the jolly 7 dwarfs in Snow White singing ’hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go’.   If we are truly following our heart’s desires into meaningful activity & occupation, how come we find ourselves stuck in jobs that misfit? Plus suffering huge anxieties around changing careers & jobs? What happened to career development,  job fulfillment & satisfaction?  Could it be the desires of life that drive us for more & more must haves & the wrong job that pays for it all – bigger house, new car, big screen TV, e-reader, ipad, ipod – ipaddy! 

So we need to wake up to what are our fundamental needs & surely better to focus on our passion, drive and expression of this in our work for us & for our families & community.

From my varied experiences of providing E AP support over the last something like 10 years (NZ & UK),  I have noticed that it’s usually at the crucial point of no return that sends workers for professional help, falling along that out of control slippery road towards the emotional ‘burn out’ cliff top, falling into the scary abyss of break down below – uncontrollable eye leaking, hyper -sensitivity, often angry outbursts over silly little things, high axiety, depression & hopelessness. My clients report this space is a a very lonely place, & once out, never ever want to return.

Here’s 3 examples of the reported causes of mental difficulties that takes people over the brink –

  1. High stress of uncertainty & difficult workloads

Will I achieve the targets this month /outcomes of a performance review, seeing no end to the pressures, expected to do the jobs of 2 people (especially after other staff leave & are not replaced)

  1. Communication style of line manager

Bullying tactics, maintaining high anxiety through insufficient company information, no clear strategy, unworkable protocols , lack of support,

  1. Poor organisational management & direction

lack of appreciation for work completed, job insecurity, lack of support from HR, no channel to input into organisational direction & values, fuelling self-doubt, mistakes, confidence crushed .

Do organisations need to change their culture into one that enables people to thrive & feel nourished?– yes they sure do, but that’s the making of another blog.

Let’s take care of numero Uno – we deserve a better work & personal life mix. life.

Turning our out of control emotional fears (E.F.’s) into profound inner wellbeing & contentment is quite a tall order, especially in 3 EAP counselling sessions! So we need to become emotionally healthy & savvy pretty sharpish!

Here’s a model I created to help me with my E.F.’s, see if it helps you too …….

THE MATRIX OF EMOTIONS – the art of developing inner wisdom

The core self

helps us access & download an awareness of eternal life force energy & acts as mediator to all our many inner voices! Bit like the angel on one shoulder & the devil on the othe as we listen to the conflicting messages. It’s life’s observer, arbitrator & sources our individuality. Like an overview wizard.

Emotional intelligence

gives us that inner rational voice based on other possible realities – I’ve been through worse before & came through a better person, there’s lots of people worse off than me, at least I have family, partner etc who loves & supports me. Getting feelings into logical perspective, Mr Spock style!

Emotional Values

gives us a real sense of aspirational feelings such as truth, integrity, creativity, gratitude, aesthetics & hopefulness – there is a just world, belief in a higher power – inkling that I am worth much more than the petty trivial incidents of human existence. How can I change what I do to make life more meaning /& full?

Emotional wisdom

gives us the inner knowing that we are on track, accessing innate knowledge – that nothing happens by mistake, we have an important internal driver towards purpose & feeling right, we are all linked by the synchronicity of unity of life. The infinite sense of belonging to something much greater than just ourselves. I liken this to our wise second nature.


So looking at the situation/getting to the nub of the matter, apply the 3 emotional sentinels. Try to view the world from each position. Then connect to your inner core self & see the greater or whole picture. Allow intuitive wisdom to emerge, giving you the answers & directions, the steps to take towards inner contentment & serenity, encouraging inner confidence & trust.

Ask yourself – in making decisions/changes


(developing self-respect & heartlove= personal intelligence)


(developing altruism & empathy= social relationship intelligence)


(WORK & FAMILY) A BETTER PLACE ,WHAT CAN I CONTRIBUTE (developing compassion & unity of spirit= culture of global intelligence)

  • All these aspects are important for sustainable change.
  • Try to alter something that you DO have control over
  • Take steps to minimise your stress level
  • Even one small change can redirect creative life force energy to start shifting other things.

Remember one small step…….one giant leap is the possible outcome.

Get brilliant strategies on board NOW, so you don’t fall into the downward spiral of emotional burn-out.

Pamela Harland is a Wellbeing Consultant & Group facilitator, UK Counselling Psychologist specialising in Workplace Wellbeing. Pamela is passionate about bringing Positive Psychology techniques to workplaces, teams and individuals to create a Spirit of Wellbeing Culture.

contact Pamela

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