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Older employee mental health issues

Brushing off mental health issues

An article in this week’s HR Review states that older employees are ‘brushing off’ mental health issues. This is taken from a study by BUPA and some of the findings relating to over 55s are that

  • Two thirds of employees in this age group suffer symptoms of mental ill health, including anxiousness, continuous low mood, feelings of hopelessness and insomnia
  • 21% feel it’s not appropriate to discuss mental health problems at work
  • Only one in ten confide in colleagues or a manager
  • 24% say their symptoms don’t indicate anything serious
  • They are slowest to seek help, delaying for 54 days on average

​BUPA’s point with the article seems to be to encourage older employees to feel more confident in recognising symptoms and seeking help. Which is all very admirable.

Do you need professional help?

For me though, as one of those older people (ok, not an employee any longer, but definitely in that age group) the article raises more questions than it answers. Those symptoms – are they an indication that professional help is needed? Continuous low mood – if you’re not happy at work, then yes, you may have a continuous low mood. Is that an indication of a mental health issue, or is it a question of an individual’s mindset?

There’s a line between what is a mental health issue that needs professional support and someone who is unhappy because they have a fixed mindset and, to quote Carol Dweck[1], think the world needs to change, not them. Or, as Jen Sincero [2] says, people with bad habits and limiting beliefs, head towards the big snooze – a life of mediocrity.  It’s too easy to sleepwalk through life, meeting obligations , family commitments, having to earn a living, and then find that you’re stuck in some boring job that doesn’t inspire you or seem meaningful.    That doesn’t translate necessarily into a mental health issue that needs professional help.  There are things you can do, take action yourself, make a change.  I know, because I’ve done it.

Apparently, many say that mental health simply ‘doesn’t affect me’. Is this because, as a comment on the article suggests, that older employees won’t speak up because they are afraid that if they do, their job is at risk? (Quite possibly.) Or is it because baby boomers are used to just getting on with things, even if they don’t feel like it? I’d say this is a definite characteristic of us baby boomers. Amongst the women, there’s a sense of obligation to our family commitments that mean we struggle on. Many men of this age still feel it is somehow weak to seek help for mental health issues.

And that 54 days before seeking help – so less than two months. You might legitimately feel that things will get better of their own accord without needing help; although, I realise I can’t argue this without proving BUPA’s point! But I’d still say; is less than two months suffering a continuous low mood an inordinately long time to wait before seeking help? Maybe younger people are too quick to say they have a problem that they can’t solve themselves?

​Why do we feel this way?

One statistic in their findings I do find shocking is that two thirds of people in this age group suffer symptoms like anxiousness, (is anxiousness the same as anxiety? I’d have said anxiety, but the study said anxiousness. Maybe there’s some semantic difference I’m not aware of) continuous low mood, feelings of hopelessness and insomnia. Even if BUPA are overstating the extent of the problem, this is a terrible indictment of the quality of life for working baby boomers. I’ve long believed that work should be meaningful, enjoyable and rewarding. Surely us over 50s have earned the right to be doing something we love with our time, something we find useful and that we look forward to doing? Surely we should not be feeling hopeless, anxious or continuously in a low mood?

What is often not said is that it is work that makes us feel this way. Our lifelong feeling of ​not being valued in jobs that don’t feel meaningful leads to low self esteem and has a knock on effect on the rest of our lives. We don’t have interesting personal lives, we’re too tired once we get back from work to take part in social activities or hobbies, our family relationships may be suffering, and our health, fitness and diet aren’t ideal, making the tiredness worse.

I don’t want to suggest that you shouldn’t seek professional help if you need it, and if your company is enlightened and supportive enough to offer this, that’s awesome, use it. Or use the NHS. I'm not medically trained in any way, but my own past experience of support from the NHS for mental health issues hasn't really addressed issues of low self esteem and confidence. This has taken a lot of personal effort in self development and informal support instead.

​So if it’s that you’re just unhappy at work, take action. Take control, and take back your power. There are some simple things you can do to be happier, and you can start today with these seven things.

About the Author Lindsay Milner

Lindsay is the owner of Silvern Training. Before that she had a very varied working life, doing everything from admin, volunteering, sales, teaching, training, fundraising, management and chairing a board of charity trustees. Now wants to change the world of work by improving workplace cultures so that people can look forward to Monday mornings. Also likes to support individuals to speak up, be better listeners and to take action.

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2 comments
Vicky Etherington says 26th April 2019

Such a valuable message here Lindsay. Thank you.

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Lindsay Milner says 20th May 2019

Thank you 🙂

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