- 09 Oct 18
A new survey carried out by Mental Health Ireland suggests that working very long hours puts people’s mental health at risk. “We need to talk about it,” says Fine Gael’s Senator Jerry Buttimer.
As the leading happiness guru Alexander Kierulf once said, “Most people chase success at work, thinking that will make them happy. The truth is that happiness at work will make you successful.” Or to paraphrase Dolly Parton, you should “never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”
That may sound like solid advice. Unfortunately, many of us appear not to be heeding it. According to a new survey carried out by Mental Health Ireland, one third of Irish employees “feel unhappy or very unhappy about the time they devote to work.”
Meanwhile, more than 40 per cent believe that they are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work.
The MHI research also suggests that, when working long hours, more than a quarter of Irish employees feel ‘depressed’ (27 per cent), one third feel ‘anxious’ (34 per cent), and more than half feel ‘irritable’ (58 per cent).
Almost two thirds of employees say they have experienced a negative effect on their personal life, including “lack of personal development, physical and mental health problems, and poor relationships and poor home life.”
While these figures don’t reflect the lasting pleasure and satisfaction that people get out of hard work, and in particular from achieving things, the stats do give pause for thought. One theory is that the more hours you spend at work, the more hours outside of work you are likely to spend thinking or worrying about it. Based on that assumption, as a person’s weekly working hours increase, so too does their scope for unhappiness.
Like the title of a Depeche Mode track, the trick is probably for people to strive to get the balance right.
IT’S GOOD TO TALK
Of course life isn’t necessarily very helpful in that regard, as anyone who has tried to run a business, or work as a freelance, will tell you. Sometimes the work just has to be done.
Interestingly, many more Irish women report unhappiness than men (42% of women compared with 29% of men).
“Women, in particular, need to keep an eye on their physical and mental health,” according to Michelle Obama, “because if we’re scurrying to and from appointments and errands, we don’t have a lot of time to take care of ourselves. We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.”
Senator Jerry Buttimer, of Fine Gael, is now taking a personal interest in the issue.
Forthright about his own personal needs for therapy when he was a younger man coming to terms with his sexuality, the Cork Senator – who is gay – is convinced that a lot more needs to be done to prepare workplaces for when mental health issues arise.
“I attended counselling as part of dealing with my sexuality,” Senator Buttimer tells Hot Press. “It’s good to talk – and important for people to reach out and share their issues. If you are experiencing difficulties you are not alone, so I would really encourage people to talk,” .
The FG leader in the Seanad, Buttimer is now calling for the introduction of Mental Health training in companies to teach people tools and strategies to promote the mental health of their employees. Senator Buttimer says he’s planning to speak to Minister for Health, Simon Harris and Minister for Business, Heather Humphreys, to decide the feasibility of setting up such a programme.
“I believe the introduction of Mental Health training in companies is now very necessary,” Senator Buttimer says. “If we are all to reach our full potential, then the difficulties and stigma associated with mental health should be acknowledged.
“A programme such as Safe Talk will go some way to helping people ensure their mental well-being is being looked after.”
SafeTALK (“suicide alertness for everyone”) is a half-day training programme that aims to equip participants to identify individuals who might be having thoughts of suicide. In just a few hours, participants can learn how to provide practical help to those who are potentially suicidal.
“We need to teach people tools and coping strategies to promote optimal mental health,” concludes Senator Buttimer.
There is no arguing with that. It is now down to when – and how...