An illustration of the factors in our head that cause anxiety

Anxiety at Work

According to the New Zealand Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study, anxiety and depressive disorders are second only to coronary heart disease as a cause of health loss (a measure of how much healthy life is lost due to early death, illness or disability) in New Zealand.

The Office of the Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services Annual Report (2017) reported that 3.77% (124,698 people) of New Zealand’s population accessed mental health services during the 2017 year; an increase of.17% from the 2016 report, and an increase of .7% since 2011*.
*Note: The increase in accessing services from 2017 includes statistics from people accessing both mental health and addiction services, whereas other stated figures are purely access to mental health services statistics, therefore the increase in accessing mental health services specifically may be slightly less than reported.

The Health and Safety at Work Act (Section 16) is clear: “health” includes both physical and mental health (Section 16). However, for all sorts of reasons workplace anxiety tends to end up in the “too hard basket”., with some employers and/or employees genuinely believing anxiety is not a “real” “health” condition, or, due to employers and/or employees being uncertain whether work is the root cause of their anxiety.

Clearly, work-related anxiety is a complex issue, both in terms of breaking down barriers to allow open discussion between employers and employees of workplace anxiety, and also with regard to accurate diagnosis, not only due to the true root of a person’s anxiety being difficult to pinpoint (especially if a person is facing several stressors in their life), but also due to there being different levels of anxiety, including:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
    GAD occurs when someone feels anxious about a number of things on most days over a long period of time – 6 months or more – and is likely to occur in conjunction with another mental health condition, such as depression;
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (a ‘Phobia’)
    Social Anxiety Disorder occurs when someone feels very fearful about a particular situation and it interferes with life. A common example is a fear of attending social events. Other phobias include fear of being away from home (agoraphobia), or fear of blood, injury, or injections;
  • Panic Disorder
    Panic Disorder occurs when someone experiences sudden and unexpected feelings of terror, known as ‘panic attacks’, or ‘anxiety attacks’;
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    PTSD is a psychological reaction to experiencing or witnessing a significantly stressful, traumatic or shocking event. PTSD symptoms develop because the event has stressed, traumatised, or shocked the person so deeply that it overwhelms their normal ability to process what has happened; and
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)  
    OCD is a condition where a person has obsessional, uncontrollable thoughts, and performs compulsive and repetitive actions, such as needing to turn a light switch on and off 10 times before leaving a room and not being able to resist the urge to do so.

To help clarify the situation and enable employers to tackle issues in the workplace responsibly and compassionately, WorkSafe provides an excellent guide to managing stress and fatigue in the workplace. The guide provides a sample stress questionnaire that helps to identify or rule out work-related causes. Especially in today’s World, “It’s none of my business”, should never be your response as an employer to a report of anxiety for many reasons besides meeting your obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, and as an employee you should not expect such a response and be afraid to speak up about your health problems to your employer, whether the cause be mental, physical, emotional, or otherwise.   

If you’re struggling to understand your obligations, or how to approach an invisible illness such as anxiety, and treat it as you would a physical condition, contact the team at Working Wise today. We can provide information, support, and help you to put plans and processes in place to help you manage your, and your employees, health at work. You can phone us on 04 499 0710, or complete our online contact form.

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