At the Wellbeing of Women Annual Lunch Debate on 20th January, psychiatrist Dr Gary Bell spoke on the subject of women’s mental health in the workplace.
Sarah Brown introduced the event which was presented by Kay Burley. The assembled guests including: Natasha Kaplinksy, Janet Ellis, Sir Victor Blank, Eve Pollard and influential women drawn from all sectors of industry and society debated the following questions:
1. If today’s working environment is so stressful and depression is so common amongst women, is not the best prevention for them to stay at home?
2. Depression is twice as common in women than in men? What do you think are the top three factors in causing this discrepancy.
The overwhelming answer to the first question was ‘No’. Work provided women with an opportunity to assert an identity that was outside the domestic sphere, a network of contacts and friends as well as self-esteem and recognition of themselves as individuals. Many also commented that the isolation of being at home, the treadmill of domestic tasks could as easily lead to depression as work place stress.
Many felt that stress in the work place arose from a lack of control and flexibility and that many women juggling families and work chose to set up their own businesses in order to achieve this. If companies and organisations were able to offer more support, flexibility and genuine choice and if the culture and management style reflected the needs of women (rather than just a set of policies to satisfy ‘diversity’) there would be less stress for all.
Looking at the factors causing depression in women which might be different from those of men there was a clear theme that women put pressure on themselves to achieve in all aspects of their lives, they multi-tasked and overloaded themselves out of a sense of responsibility and that depression arose from expectations of perfection and guilt at not achieving it. It was felt that some of these expectations were fuelled by online, social and other media.
The other key factors were ‘hormones’ (PMT, post-natal depression, the menopause) as well as the possibility that the discrepancy might be misleading - women were more likely to admit to depression and seek treatment and were therefore more likely to be measured and reported on in official statistics.
The Wellbeing of Women Annual Lunch Debate
20th January 2010 at The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London.
Hosted by Kay Burley, with an address by Sarah Brown and vote of thanks by Eve Pollard.
Key speaker is Dr Gary Bell, BA MBBS FRCPsych
Gary Bell trained in General Adult Psychiatry in London (Charing Cross, the Middlesex and University College Hospitals) and has held Consultant posts at St Bartholomew's Hospital in the City of London, the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore and since 1997 the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, Northwood, Middlesex, the largest Cancer Centre in the South of England. Gary is also an Honorary Consultant at St Luke's Hospital for the Clergy and is a Court Assistant of the Society of Apothecaires (Apothecaries). He was a Membership Examiner for the Royal College of Psychiatrists from 1998-2007. Gary also holds a BA in Oriental Studies from the University of Queensland. Gary has worked in private practice in Central London for almost 20 years. He is a general adult psychiatrist with special interests in addictions, treatment-resistant anxiety and depressive disorders, perinatal psychiatry, post-traumatic stress disorder and liaison psychiatry especially oncology and pain syndromes. He now delivers a number of positive psychology programmes to corporate clients alongside clinical services. He has published widely in the fields of liaison psychiatry and medical education. He has presented original research at conferences and regular lectures at medical meetings.
Other guests include:
Ian Powell, Chairman & Senior Partner PwC
Sir Victor Blank, Chairman of Wellbeing of Women
Background to the debate
In the recent Public Health White Paper women’s health and maternal health were considered priorities - with 10-15 percent of pregnant women suffering from maternal depression and with evidence that this affects the long term mental health of the child, a debate on the real issues has never been more urgent.
Dr Bell will talk about post partum psychosis and post natal depression with particular reference to the role hormones play in mental health, not only pregnancy but also at other times in a woman's life e.g. PMS and the menopause.
He will also talk about why mental health at work is about more than just juggling family and work and what we can do as individuals to prevent depression and also what employers might do to promote positive psychology in workplace.
“Mental illness accounts for almost half of the total work days lost each year from all illness and injury. Whilst the number of lost work days attributable to women reflects the higher prevalence of dpression in women generally, it is noteworthy that their absenteeism is significantly less than men per episode (29.8 days vs 25.7 days). Does this imply resilience within vulnerability?” - Dr Gary Bell
Wellbeing of Women
Wellbeing of Women is a charity that raises money to improve women’s health through research, training and education. It funds medical research to develop better treatments, supports specialist training to improve doctors’ effectiveness and provides education for women so that they can stay well.
Wellbeing of Women is currently funding a project looking at “The Role of neurosteroids in stress and postnatal depression” by Dr Delia Belleli and Professor Jeremy Lambert at the University of Dundee.
www.wellbeingofwomen.org.uk 27 Sussex Place, London NW1 4SP -
charity reg no. 239281
HM Goverment - “Our Health and Wellbeing Today” (published 30 Nov 2010)
“Health of mothers is critical to the development of their children both before and after birth”.
“Maternal health before, during and after pregnancy lays the foundation for healthy fetal development, as well as a child’s physical and emotional health.”
“Poor maternal mental health during pregnancy is associated with low birth-weight and increased rates of mental ill health in children. Maternal depression and anxiety in pregnancy and during a child’s early life affect 10-15% of pregnant women and are several times more common among mothers living in poverty than those who are not.”