Suicide, depression and the tech industry
19 November was International Men’s Day: a date intended to raise awareness of issues affecting men around the world. This year, the focus was on the worryingly high rate of male suicide: globally, these are up to three times higher than suicide rates amongst women.
In 2014, there were 6,122 suicides in the UK (at a rate of 10.8 per 100,000 people), with men aged between 45 and 59 years old more likely to take their own lives than any other group (at 26.5 per 100,000). According to research by the Samaritans, the age group once considered in the “prime of their life” is now the most likely to experience mental health problems and, in the tech industry, there is also a notably higher number of suicides than in some other industries.
High stress industry
The process of taking a raw idea and transforming it into a successful company can be a monumental task. Nowhere is this more evident than in the tech industry, where every person founding a business wants to innovate with new ideas and improve the day-to-day use of technology. Add this to the burden of knowing that nine out of ten startups end in failure, and it can make for a highly stressful environment.
Research into personality traits suggests that the best entrepreneurs are creative, socially extravert and have a higher propensity for taking risks. But these traits are also heavily associated with bipolarism and depression.
Success does not always resolve these issues, as a growing company may pile on the pressure of responsibility. Being at the top means having to be strong and confident, even if things are falling down around you; displaying weakness can spook investors or even encourage the competition to take advantage. Under the weight of all this responsibility and increasing loneliness, stress can slowly turn into anxiety and depression.
Most employees will also struggle with stress at some point in their career. Missing deadlines, going over budget on a project and too many early mornings or late nights trying to hit the latest milestone, are just some of the sources of continuous daily stress that slowly builds into something unmanageable. Of course, not all stress is harmful – it can also be an excellent motivator for problem solving or as a way of focusing priorities on a task, but each person has their own ‘optimal levels’ and, no matter how motivated, everyone has a breaking point.
For many, stress can be debilitating, building slowly over time with something that was once manageable becoming overwhelming. Small things like always eating on the go, excessive smoking or drinking, and trying to be available to everyone will gradually add to a sense of being trapped.
There may be a sudden change in workload or work patterns, an injury might mean a person can no longer do a job effectively, or a general feeling of always getting things wrong that can add to this growing anxiety. Small problems can snowball into a feeling of desperation, which can lead to panic attacks.
Stress in men can be particularly problematic as many suffer from ’emotional illiteracy’, according to Samaritan research. That’s not to give credence to the stereotype that men find it difficult to talk about emotions when confronted. Instead, it is the idea that men don’t regularly open up to those around them and that many men within the 45-59 age range have fewer supportive relationships and smaller circles of friends, especially in a male-dominated tech industry.
Men today are also typically less likely to have one lifelong partner and are more likely to live alone for longer periods of time, with the added economic pressures that brings. Fewer supportive relationships mean fewer chances to “spontaneously” open up instead of forcing a conversation. Men are also more likely to suffer from a ‘big build’ – the accumulation of stress to breaking point before seeking help.
While stress can be difficult to identify, there are some signs to watch out for, either in your own behaviour or the behaviour of others. Signs like a feeling of being ‘trapped’ in a job because of substantial loan repayments or obligations to provide for a family, or the feeling that you aren’t able to do your job very well and constantly need the support of co-workers.
Stressed or depressed employees may also question their “purpose” within an organisation, may drastically change their social habits, and may increasingly turn to alcohol and drugs.
Managing stress is something everyone can benefit from, and there are a number of long-term coping mechanisms you can deploy to help change your work-life balance. Keeping a diary and noting how long you spend on each activity both in and out of work will help identify how much of your life is taken up by specific tasks.
It may be useful to identify your ‘ideal scenario’ that lets you achieve your perfect work-life balance. Finally, you need to identify what changes you can make to move towards your ideal scenario. For example, you may have identified that you spend too much time thinking about work at the weekend, so you might tell your colleagues that you will not be responding to emails until Monday.
It is also important to understand your company’s responsibility. According to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, “every employer must assess the health and safety risks to which employees are exposed at work”. This includes stress, and businesses must ensure workers are able to cope with the role. Importantly, employers are duty-bound to make changes to your working environment if you express concerns, normally identified through a stress risk assessment. Within the Regulations sits the ‘Management Standards’, a framework to ensure employers play an active and supportive role in addressing concerns – the whole process should be a partnership after all. As always, the earlier you raise a problem, the less likely it is that you will require absence from work.
Everyone will encounter stress and depression at some point in their lives and it is essential to spot warning signs early. If you ever have problems with stress or depression, whether it is struggling at work or you simply need some guidance, there are a number of support groups available including:
NHS Choices: considered the ‘online front door’ of the NHS, it can provide a range of health information
Samaritans: Call 116 123 – A free phone service is available 24 hours a day 365 days a year. They can help you with anything you are going through and will provide practical advice and support.
Health and Safety Executive: Government backed website offering advice for a range of health issues, for both employees and employers.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, IT Pro.