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UK at risk of becoming a ‘burnt-out nation’, mental health charity warns

A poll found more than a third of adults had time off work due to pressure and stress in the last year (Dominic Lipsinski/PA)
A poll found more than a third of adults had time off work due to pressure and stress in the last year (Dominic Lipsinski/PA)

The UK is at risk of becoming a “burnt-out nation”, a charity has warned, with a “worrying” number of people taking time off work due to poor mental health caused by stress.

Mental Health UK has called on the Government to intervene and better support the workforce.

It comes after a survey revealed more than a third of adults faced extreme pressure in the workplace in the past year.

The YouGov poll of 2,060 adults – 1,132 of whom were workers – found 35% had experienced high or extreme levels of pressure at work, with 20% requiring time off due to poor mental health caused by stress in the past year.

Chief executive Brian Dow warned the UK is “rapidly becoming a burnt-out nation” with a “worrying number of people” taking time off due to poor mental health caused by stress.

“High levels of work absence due to poor mental health are a major challenge, but its causes are complex,” he added.

“Public attitudes and understanding towards mental health and work have changed, particularly as the workplace transformed overnight in response to the pandemic.

Working from home following the Covid pandemic has brought fresh worries for some employees (Alamy/PA)

“Meanwhile, we live in unprecedented times, and life outside work has become increasingly difficult due to the cost-of-living crisis and pressures on public services, while global challenges such as climate change and artificial intelligence fuel stress, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness.”

The survey also found 35% of people were not comfortable voicing concerns about pressure and stress to line managers or company leaders, with 31% saying bullying and intimidation by colleagues had been the cause of their stress in the last year.

Almost half (49%) of workers suggested their employers did not have a plan in place to spot signs of chronic stress.

Mental Health UK urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to hold a national summit to bring together ministers, employers and experts in a bid to create healthy workplaces and better support workers.

Deidre Bowen, director of national programmes at Mental Health UK, shared her experience of feeling burned out in a previous role.

She said: “Experiencing burnout myself has truly shown me how harmful it can be to our wellbeing and why employers need to prioritise concrete actions to prevent it.

“In a previous role, I was being pulled in all directions while we all faced the pressure and uncertainty of the pandemic, with my team needing support around the clock, while funders and partners all looked to me for answers.

“I felt like I had to show everyone how strong I was and be the one who held it all together.”

She added that she was “exhausted, constantly jittery and battling headaches”.

“I would drop off to sleep quickly, but wake in the night with thoughts consuming me. I had difficulty concentrating and often became distracted.

“I was living in a state of overwhelm, with the lines between work and life outside of it increasingly blurred.”

Mr Dow called on the Government to “lead a national conversation” on how to help people stay in or return to work “given the positive impact that secure employment has on mental health”.

He said: “Part of this will involve looking at how employers can better spot and manage stress before it becomes burnout.

“But the onus isn’t just on organisations, and while it is positive that staff are more likely to raise concerns about stress and mental health than in the past, we will need to consider what support and adjustments from employers are reasonable.

“There will be no simple, one-size-fits-all solution, but a failure to properly understand and address the challenges faced will threaten our long-term health and success as a nation.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We are investing £2.3 billion into mental health services and putting almost 400,000 extra people through NHS Talking Therapies.

“But the link between work and good mental health is clear, which is why our Back to Work Plan will help hundreds of thousands including those with long-term health conditions to break down barriers to work.

“Inactivity has reduced by over 300,000 since the pandemic peak, and our occupational health consultation will help make sure businesses offer the best possible health support to their staff.”