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Bupa Global Wellbeing Index

UK FOCUS: Business leaders self-medicating to cope with COVID-19 pressure

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Bupa Global launched its Executive Wellbeing Index in September 2020, the first report of its kind to look at the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global business leaders and wealth creators who will shape the post-COVID world.

In this next instalment of the Index, we look at how stigmas are still preventing many from reaching out for much needed mental health support.

In countries such as the UK, the stress of the pandemic is leading to a prevalence in ‘self-medication’ with alcohol and substances, as well as potentially addictive hobbies such as gambling and shopping.

Importantly, we look at spotting the signs of self-medication in oneself, friends, colleagues, and loved ones and recognising when it is time to seek help.

Key findings from the Index include:

  • The mental health toll on UK business leaders has been high. Eight in 10 have experienced symptoms such as fatigue, lack of motivation, mood swings and disturbed sleep, with triggers including concerns about their business, economic recession and protecting the health of loved ones
  • Rather than seeking medical support or confiding in friends and family, 64% of UK board executives who have experienced mental ill-health during the pandemic have turned to potentially unhealthy coping mechanisms to ‘self-medicate’ these issues
  • Worryingly, 38% are using alcohol or substances to help them cope with poor mental health during the pandemic, with others using cigarettes or vaping, excessive exercise, over or under eating, or gambling
  • Despite widespread awareness of the mental health impact of the pandemic, stigmas are still preventing many from seeking the help they need. Two in five board level executives believe that it would damage their reputation if it became known if they were struggling
  • This has led UK board executives to delay seeking help. Only one in four have spoken to a medical professional about their mental health problems

Dr Pablo Vandenabeele, Bupa Global’s Clinical Director for Mental Health , said: “The pandemic is taking its toll on business leaders. With complex networks of colleagues, investors, affiliates as well as their own families to consider, it’s no surprise that many have felt that they must ‘keep calm and carry on’, rather than facing up to mental health issues head on.

“But while self-medication can seem like a quick-fix solution that may help with anxiety or depression in the short term, it won’t solve the underlying mental health issues and could ultimately make things worse.”

Poppy Jaman, CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance said: “Leading by example is crucial to breaking the down stigma attached to mental illness. Encouraging compassionate dialogue which leads to positive action is crucial to creating psychologically safe workplace cultures where everyone can flourish. Workplaces that nurture talent, train line managers, put mental health and wellbeing on the Board agenda are building resilient businesses which in turn will be able to face these challenging times.”

“The pandemic is showing us that good mental health is business critical and there’s potential for this to be a watershed moment going forward.”