“Let’s not ignore mental health in IT, let’s talk about it” says Craig Dalrymple, Senior Systems Engineer at Brightsolid.

According to digital healthcare experts, Forth, work is the most common cause of stress after money. The Health and Safety Executive also reported that 526,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety (new or long-standing) in 2016/17 and 12.5 million working days were lost due to this. It’s therefore vitally important for employers to recognise the need for support channels within their organisation and begin prioritising the mental health of their employees. Fortunately, there is becoming less stigma and taboo around the subject and people are starting to speak up.

Last year, I experienced a period of dreading the thought of going into work every morning. I’ve been working for Brightsolid for over 15 years and this was the lowest I had ever felt in in my career. These feelings confused me because I enjoy working at Brightsolid and find my job very fulfilling. My role has changed a number of times over the years and every week has brought something new for me, so I knew it had to be something else. After doing some digging into my feelings and symptoms, including a bit of Google research, I came across a term that resonated with me: ‘burnout’. It’s no secret that the IT sector is a very fast-paced industry and we’re always striving to offer the latest and best solution for our clients. Keeping up with these rapid changes can be tiring as customers look to us for the knowledge and know-how on the latest solutions. In tandem with this, customer demands are high and working in data security, there’s a large amount of pressure on us to ensure risk is low at all times and customers feel reassured. That said, how people deal with pressure is different from person to person and this is a key point for employers to recognise. We aren’t all cut from the same cloth and how one person deals with pressure can be different to the next, if affected at all.

Mental health and IT are not two phrases you often hear together. However, with International Stress Awareness Week taking place this week, its theme this year – ‘Does hi-tech cause hi-stress?’ – evokes many questions around the impact technology has on our mental health.

Because of our instant and constant access to technology, we are living 24/7 lifestyles with less opportunity to switch off. Employers may take this for granted and assume staff are available 24/7, which can lead to high demands and expectations at work. Continually failing to meet these expectations may have a negative impact on our health and wellbeing.

According to helpguide.org, burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands and can even affect people who are successful and happy at work.

What can the industry do to help?

 Open the dialogue

Despite the speed at which we work, as an industry, we need to learn to recognise the symptoms, not just in ourselves but in others too. The vCommunity has a great reputation for talking about all kinds of technology subjects, but who says we can’t talk about this subject too? There are many forums and channels that can be put in place and promoted in the workplace to open the dialogue. Our parent company, DC Thomson, recently introduced mental health first aiders across the company, who have volunteered to undergo mental health first aid training and offer support services. They have only been in post a short while and are already opening the dialogue with people who may be having difficulties.

Offer your time

Once that dialogue has been opened, asking for, and accepting, help is very difficult due to the stigma around mental health. Taking a colleague or friend out for a coffee or walk, outside the workplace environment, to talk about what’s on their mind will help remove or lessen a potential source of stress.

Listen/Talk

If you’re the talker, then you should consider no subject taboo, no-one is going to judge you. The listener can probably relate to most situations/subjects. Talking is underrated and having someone to talk to who understands the pressures from your role and the industry can help lessen the burden. If you are the listener, then listen non-judgementally. Don’t try to argue or jolly them out of their low mood, and do not offer advice such as “pull yourself together” or “cheer up” (we all know how annoying and unhelpful that can be!). Simply asking how someone is can make a real difference.

‘No technology after 11pm’ policy

You can’t control what employees get up to in their spare time, however you can highlight the ‘bad side’ of technology. Spending all your working day with technology can be draining (especially when tech is your day job) so try to part ways with it in the evenings. Staring at a laptop, tablet or phone screen into the early hours will only add to the stress and anxiety of burnout.

Promote efficient working

An overwhelming workload can be a contributing factor to stress/anxiety. Assessing all tasks as equally high priority can get you into a rabbit hole. If all tasks are a priority then none are, which can make you feel like you are sifting through a workload but getting nowhere. Employers can encourage an effective working technique called ‘The Pomodoro Technique’ by Francesco Cirillo. This works by splitting your day into 25-minute segments and can help focus the mind on one task at a time, getting you through that ‘to do’ list efficiently.

The same can apply to setting yourself goals at work. Breaking down larger, overwhelming goals for a project into smaller manageable goals will help you reach the overarching target in a more manageable and hopefully less stressful way.

Offer professional help

While not all companies will have mental health first aiders, it can be useful to ensure your HR team has information on where employees facing a struggle can go for help. It’s worth them getting checked out; it may be nothing, but then again it may be something.

Let’s not ignore mental health in IT, let’s talk about it.