Easing fears by keeping it confidential
Published: 29 Feb 2016
Clinical and occupational health psychologist Linda Gibson discusses how redundancy – and the fear of it – can affect your mental health.
For more than two decades, Dr Linda Gibson has been providing mental health services in and around the oil industry in Aberdeen and abroad in her role as a clinical and occupational health psychologist.
More recently, she has witnessed how being made redundant – or living with the uncertainty of continued employment – is affecting the mental health of those working in the oil and gas sector.
She believes that, despite considerable improvements over the years in relation to attitudes to mental health, many people continue to fear the “stigma” of having a mental health issue known within the work environment.
“With one in four of us experiencing a mental health problem at any one time, it is a common occurrence which most of us will have to some degree at some point in our lives,” she said.
“In the majority of cases, the problem can be improved greatly through use of evidence-based psychological treatments. The earlier problems are caught, the better the outcome. Unfortunately, fear of repercussions at work can result in staff avoiding seeking help at the point when they most need it. They may feel resistance to seek appropriate help, due to the fear of being negatively assessed within a competitive or uncertain employment environment.
“There is also some variation in how men and women approach mental health issues in and out of the work environment. Women are more likely, for example, to use their own social support networks to work through a problem or to seek professional help, while men are more likely to keep an issue to themselves and to remain quite isolated without seeking the help which could improve their situation. This in turn leaves them more vulnerable to further mental health difficulties.”
The meaning of work also has a major effect in circumstances where a job comes under threat. Above and beyond the economics of paying the mortgage, “men are more likely to see their job as being about winning, succeeding and earning power”.
“This is part of male automatic thinking,” said Dr Gibson.
“So, when redundancy comes into play, there is often a feeling of losing face, of shame and of the need to keep it secret. Many men report feeling emasculated by the experience. As they are less likely to share these feelings, this can add to their experience of isolation, increasing the chances of stress, anxiety and depression. Being aware of this gender-biased tendency can help men to avoid these pitfalls.
“Having a job is very much associated with having good mental health. So when you come out of that, it can take away many additional things, as well as a pay-check – things like camaraderie, structure, purpose, a feeling of achievement and recognition. I think the additional things don’t necessarily get recognised.”
Dr Gibson said that for those still in employment, admitting that they are having issues can raise the fear that it may be used against them when companies are looking at making redundancies. Some people report, for example, that they prefer not to be seen going to a therapist’s office and, in cases where they are referred though work, there seems to be an increased need for reassurance at present about anything they do talk about being kept confidential.
“The confidentiality issue is a key thing,” said Dr Gibson.
So she came up with a service that will hopefully aid those suffering in silence. She has launched a new online therapy service which is encrypted and provides the highest level of security and confidentiality. She said it is the same security compliance level used by Nasa for its online healthcare.
“People can access it from anywhere, as long as they have broadband,” she said.
“So you can close the door at lunchtime and have a session then; call in while you are travelling away from home, or do it after work. You don’t need to turn up anywhere or worry about being seen at a clinic. For the people who say that they don’t want to be seen visiting a therapist, this enables them to get help with total confidentiality and outcomes are just as good as seeing someone face to face.”