Taking the Lid off of Stress and Mental Health | Carole Spiers, Chair, International Stress Management Association [UK]


Over the coming weeks some marvellous people have kindly offered to contribute their experience and expertise on the topic of “Stress: Are We Coping?”.

Stress is the focus of Mental Health Awareness Week 2018.

My aim in bringing together these kind contributions is to highlight experts from different spheres so that as many readers as possible will be able to identify stress more easily, to discuss it openly and to hear as many differing viewpoints in managing it as possible. There is no one size fits all model yet we all experience stress in some form at various times.

I am immensely grateful to Ruth Katz for introducing me to Carole Spiers, Chair of The International Stress Management Council [UK].

Ruth has been highly influential throughout my career with an amazing ability to connect the world.

Carole’s article, Taking the Lid off of Stress and Mental Health is the perfect starting point for this series and I thank her very much for her immediate willingness to contribute.

Happy reading!

Taking the Lid off of Stress and Mental Health

Carole Spiers, Chair of The International Stress Management Council [UK]

Carole Spiers

Mental Health Awareness week hosted by the UK’s Mental Health Foundation takes place from 14th to 20th May, 2018 and their theme this year is Stress.

A variety of factors contribute to workplace stress, including long working hours, poor management communication, expectations being set too high, a lack of recognition and reward, uncertainty about future prospects, and work underload or overload. These lead to low morale, poor performance, lack of commitment, higher levels of absenteeism due to ill health, presenteeism and increased staff turnover.

The Facts

According to The UK Labour Force Survey (2016/2017), 12.5 million working days are lost each year due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, with about 44% of people experiencing work overload. This is definitely an unacceptably high figure and carries a significant cost for businesses.

Stress can also lead to mental health problems, including depression and anxiety disorders, with about 8.2 million reported cases of anxiety disorders in the UK.

By tackling stress, we can go a long way in tackling mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and, in some instances, self-harm and suicide.  Sadly, in the UK, suicide remains the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49.

There is a considerable amount of stigma surrounding stress and mental health, with many people attributing the problem to a physical illness rather than a symptom of mental ill-health.  They believe that others will see it as a sign of weakness or their inability to cope and as such distance themselves from them. Celebrities and the UK royals have helped to raise awareness in recent times, but we still have a long way to go. There are still countless executives in industry and commerce today who experience severe anxiety but are reticent about speaking out.  However, it is true that some are championing the cause but nevertheless, we need more to carry the flag.

It is unfortunately true to say that many people think that if they admit to a mental health problem, they may not get a job, a promotion or keep a position even if they can secure it. And so they don’t talk about it!  It means crossing a certain line into a world of medication and mental health support, where people may see you as ‘damaged goods’, an individual who will never be fully normal again. So a world of secrecy begins and mental health issues get swept under the carpet.

Stress Leading to Burnout

Prolonged cases of stress can lead to ‘burnout’ or a nervous breakdown.  Sadly this may lead people to slip into dangerous addictions like alcohol, drugs or gambling in order to escape from their mental health problem and that can be the slippery road to burnout. Once they are in the burnout zone, they may never completely recover and return to full-time work again.

Healthy Culture

There are continual changes in business and industry – life in the workplace is increasingly fast-paced. People don’t want to be left behind, so they opt not to talk about stress, anxiety, and mental health issues. Yet, the first step to take is recognising the signs of stress so that we can start overcoming them.

Business leaders and professionals alike need to understand this and work towards a healthy organisational culture where these issues are talked about, not ignored. A healthy culture is one in which wellbeing is paramount and people feel valued and appreciated. Where they feel part of the team in a culture that’s inclusive.

A healthy culture grows through its people; industry bosses may not be able to pay the team more, but they will get more from their team if they are there to listen to them and tell them they are valued. They should make it clear that they recognise the contribution their employees are making.

As Chair of the registered charity, the International Stress Management Association (UK), I’m proud to say that speaking up about stress and mental health is exactly what we do. Following World Mental Health Week, we have International Stress Awareness Week coming up on Wednesday 5th – 9th November. Founded by ISMA twenty years ago, this day offers an important platform to talk about stress, how it can lead to mental health problems, and what we can do about it. [www.isma.org.uk]

Early Identification

Can stress-related problems be identified earlier?  Yes they can.  Usually, there are warning signs but they are invariably ignored. Individuals may exhibit signs that are there for others to observesuch as irrational behaviour, lack of concentration or panic attacks. However, it is often the person himself who doesn’t acknowledge them.

The signs usually manifest in the form of absenteeism in the workplace, and actions can be taken to address them. One way of getting a firm handle on the problem is that repeated absenteeism should be managed by a ‘return-to-work’ interview where the manager of the individual focuses on possible stressors, either at work or home and recommends suitable interventions and adaptions in the workplace.

Speaking Up and Speaking Out

Too many people live their lives suffering from anxiety and stress. They live in fear of speaking out about it. The time is right to break through this antiquated culture and take a step of change, especially in the workplace, by showing our support for those who need support and taking the lid off stress and mental health issues.

3 Key Points

  • There is still a stigma surrounding stress and mental health
  • People still see it as an inability to cope
  • Stress-related problems can be identified earlier
  • Stress that remains unchecked can lead to serious mental health problems

The Author

Carole Spiers  FISMA, FPSA, MIHPE

Carole’s credibility is rooted in twenty five years success as CEO of a leading UK Stress Management Consultancy, working with equal success both in the UK and the Middle East.  She is a well-respected authority on building resilience and communication skills, a BBC Guest-Broadcaster and author of ‘Show Stress Who’s Boss!’ and Tolley’s Managing Stress in the workplace.

Carole is an international Motivational Speaker and is regularly called upon by the national press and media for comment.   Carole is Chair of the International Stress Management Association [UK] and Past President of the London Chapter of the Professional Speaking Association.



Mental Health Foundation: Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

The Key Characteristics of Resilience | Laurel Alexander, Wellness Professionals at Work

Mitigating Stress | Sam Pont, Strength & Conditioning Coach and Personal Trainer

Is Stress Merely a Word? | Dean Dickinson, Registered Osteopath and Chartered Physiotherapist

Understanding Stress and How it Affects your Emotions | Mark Vahrmeyer, Registered Psychotherapist

Elite Sport and Mental Health | Ian Braid, MD, DOCIAsport


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