Younger Australians Are Most Concerned About the Impact of Mental Health Stigma on Career Options

Morneau Shepell’s Mental Health Index™ shows that anxiety continues to impact Australians’ wellbeing at alarming rate

Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of total wellbeing, mental health and digital mental health services, released its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, revealing a negative mental health score among Australians for the eleventh consecutive month. The Mental Health Index™ score for February is -10.8, indicating a continued decline in mental health compared to the pre-2020 benchmark.

The February score is relatively stable to levels in January (-10.7) and December 2020 (-10.3). In February, the lowest sub-score was anxiety (-12.7), which is significantly lower than it was January (-10.9). This highlights the damaging impact that continued stress and mental strain are having on Australians’ overall health, which has the potential to result in significant harm if left unaddressed.

“While overall scores have improved since the start of the pandemic, the recent plateau reflects the contrast between the additional anxiety caused by further state shutdowns and the positivity from the launch of the immunisation program. Overall, there are still improvements to be made in supporting the population,” said Jamie MacLennan, managing director, Australia and APAC. “The levels of distress among the working population are concerning. Reminders of support, open conversation about mental health to de-stigmatise it and practical problem-solving are all critical for employers in their support of employees.”

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Australians concerned that revealing mental health issues will impact workplace and personal relationships

Mental health continues to be a taboo subject for many Australians in the workplace, despite increased efforts to reduce the associated stigma. The research found that 52 per cent of Australians believe that their career options would be limited if their employer was aware that they had a mental health issue. Within this group, 58 per cent of managers believe their career would be impacted if their employer knew of a mental health issue, compared to 47 per cent of non-managers. Mental health also continues to be an uncomfortable topic to broach with friends, with 41 per cent of respondents indicating that they believe they would be treated differently if their friends learned they had a mental health issue.

When broken out by age, young Australians reported being more concerned about limited career options after revealing they are struggling with a mental health issue than older demographics (56 per cent among individuals aged 20 to 29, improving with age to 45 per cent among those 60 and above).

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Australians with declining wellbeing relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms

The continued pandemic-driven strain on mental, physical, social and financial wellbeing has led some Australians to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with the cumulative stress and uncertainty, such as increased alcohol consumption. The research found that 13 per cent of respondents increased alcohol consumption early in the pandemic (March to May 2020), and half of respondents (50 per cent) reported that they have maintained the same level of alcohol consumption in recent months (October 2020 to January 2021), when compared to early in the pandemic. An additional 11 per cent of respondents indicated that alcohol consumption has increased from October 2020 to January 2021, when compared with early in the pandemic.

Individuals who reported increased alcohol consumption early in the pandemic also reported the lowest mental health score (-21.0) when compared to those who do not drink (-9.9), or those who decreased their alcohol consumption (-6.6).

“Efforts to eliminate the stigma of mental health must be maximised. Stigma adds an extra burden to anyone struggling, which actually creates more stress and results in delayed care,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president, research and total wellbeing. “Stigma is also a factor in isolation for those with mental health concerns. Isolation is always damaging and we are feeling more of it now than ever. Anyone struggling with their mental health needs more social support, not less.”

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