Almost a third of people have experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of stress during the last year, according to a disturbing new survey.
The shocking findings led to calls for parity in the way psychological hazards, such as stress, and physical dangers are treated in workplaces.
The YouGov survey of 4,619 people – believed to be the largest survey ever carried out on stress in the UK – also found that three quarters of adults have felt so stressed over the last year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
Alarmingly, 16 per cent of people said they had self-harmed as a result of feelings of stress.
The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) commissioned survey was released to coincide with Mental Health Awareness week.
“There are very few workplaces left in the UK in which employees working with hazardous chemicals would not be provided with protective equipment, and failures resulting in injury or even death prosecuted,” the MHF said.
“We do not currently adopt the same attitudes and behaviours towards psychological hazards.”
Psychological hazards include situations that prevent people from coping with stress, such as work breaks and being able to leave on time, with breaches needing to be subject to enforcement, the MHF said.
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe pointed out that while stress in itself is not a mental illness, it can lead to depression and anxiety as well as increasing the risk of serious physical conditions such as heart disease and a weakened immune system.
“Apart from the misery it causes to individuals, this puts an added burden onto already overstretched NHS services run by staff who are often suffering from stress themselves. The fact of the matter is that much of this could be avoided if the causes of workplace stress were tackled at the root,” Thorpe explained.
“Employers can and should do more to make sure there is support to reduce stress amongst their staff. It is an not exaggeration that it is epidemic afflicting workplaces up and down the country. As the Mental Health Foundation points out it is imperative that employers start treating psychological hazards in the workplace as seriously as they do physical ones.”
Jarrett-Thorpe said the government, along with the Health and Safety Executive, also need to do more to tackle the stress epidemic.
Mental health training
He said, “Unite has been instrumental in providing mental health training for union reps. But for widespread change the government and the Health Safety Executive must get onboard. That means working with employers to identify and prevent psychological hazards as well as enforcement of breaches.”
Responding to the survey, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said tackling stress improves lives and “makes good business sense” stating that “failure to adequately support the workforce is costing our economy up to £99bn per year”.
However, Unite lead professional officer for mental health Dave Munday said the department is failing health care staff when it comes to stress.
Munday said, “Words of agreement from the DHSC are all very well, but it still needs to get its own house in order. Last year’s NHS Staff Survey showed that stress levels for many NHS employees remains stubbornly high.”