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Stress and anxiety pandemic evident

as research reveals doubling of anxiety levels since onset of Covid-19

  • Almost 1 million (980,108) stress related sick days have been taken since the onset of Covid-19
  • National average of nine sick days recorded since March 2020 due to mental health matters
  • Family health, isolation and loss of income are top three worry factors across the nation

Aviva Life & Pensions Ireland DAC, one of Ireland’s leading insurers, has released a new study on the nations’ sentiment towards their health, wellbeing and the workplace before the onset of Covid 19 in March 2020 and now. The study shows the true scale of the strain on people’s mental health as anxiety levels have almost doubled since March 2020 with 4 in 10 people (42%) now admitting to suffering from anxiety (pre-Covid: 24%) and stress 40% (up from 25% since the outbreak of Covid-19).

Stress levels amongst men aged 30+ with children witnessed the sharpest increase since the outbreak of Covid-19, rising from an incidence of 13% pre-Covid to 36% (1 in 3) now.  Pre-Covid, stress was most pronounced amongst 18-24-year olds at 37% and this has now shifted to those aged 35-44 years and is now at 50%.  Anxiety was most pronounced amongst 25-34-year-olds at 38% pre-Covid, with anxiety levels from the same cohort now recording a stark 52%.

The rising tide of stress and anxiety:

When respondents were asked to chart their level of stress and anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10, the average anxiety and stress level of the nation is 7 out of 10.  The starkest trends are witnessed amongst self-employed women where 84% rank themselves as very stressed, recording stress levels of 7 out of 10 while 49% of 25-34-year-olds record a ranking of 8 out of 10. Overall, more women admitted to suffering from anxiety and stress at 48% and 43% respectively than men at 32% and 36%.

People are most worried about their families’ health (66%) and feeling isolated (59%).  Concern over family members health was higher amongst women at 75% (men: 70%) as indeed was feeling isolated from family and friends at 65% (men: 38%). One in 3 are worried about reduced income or loss of income (29%) as a result of the impact of Covid-19.  This rises to a significant 4 out of 10 men (38%).

Of those suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, a staggering 4 in 10 (42%) said that it has resulted in them underperforming at their jobs.  This is most acute amongst men aged 30+ with children (46%).

Health and work:

Interestingly, respondents appear to have adapted well to remote working and it has not shown to be a trigger for stress or anxiety.  This is evidenced by 1 in 3 (34%) saying that they have adapted well to working from home, 21% say it has impacted positively on their work / life balance with only 10% saying that it has impacted negatively.

16% of respondents say they are working longer hours, with the incidence highest amongst men aged 30+ with children where 1 in 5 (21%) are working longer hours. Over a quarter (26%) of respondents miss the daily interaction with colleagues and more than 1 in 5 (23%) miss teamwork and the collaborations that can arise.

Some 8% of respondents have taken a sick day since the outbreak of Covid-19 due to stress or anxiety, with almost half of them (47%) admitting to more sick leave than last year.  18 to 24-year-olds show the highest incidence of sick leave due to stress during Covid-19 with 22% taking time off.

The average amount of certified sick days across the population since March 2020 due to stress or anxiety is nine days (10.6 days for women, 8.5 days for men).  In total, there have been almost 1 million (980,108) sick days taken across Ireland due to stress or anxiety since the onset of Covid-19 in March 2020, a stark figure by any measure.

Coping with stress and anxiety:

Almost 1 in 2 of those interviewed (49%) said they were exercising more to help alleviate symptoms of stress and strain.  Others said that they talked about their concerns with family/friends (37%), with women (39%) actively doing this more than men (26%).

Practicing mindfulness was also common with 27% of respondents; 31% of whom were women and 17% men.  10% of respondents revealed that they had sought professional advice, an even trend with both men and women.

Unfortunately, 1 in 5 (22%) respondents have not taken any actions to alleviate symptoms of mental strain.  Only 3% of respondents have spoken to their employer about their stress and anxiety levels.

Four in 10 (37%) respondents said they would avail of free counselling if they had access to it, underscoring the real increased need for mental health support across the country.  Aviva undertook this study to inform and support the launch of Aviva Family Care* which is available to new and existing income protection, life and specified illness customers.  This added benefit provides mental health support with free counselling services to customers and their families, including their parents.

Future priorities:

As regards future priorities for the year ahead health, mental wellbeing and family are firmly to the fore over career progression.

The top five personal priorities included doing more exercise/getting fit at 82% (83% women, 81% men), looking after mental health at 70% (73% women, 61% men).  More family time is more important for men (77%), and women at 68% (overall 66%), whilst improved diet came in at number four for 61% (66% women, 61% men) of people.

Our claims data consistently shows that mental health has overtaken cancer as one of the main reasons for protection claims. With the worrying increase in stress and anxiety levels that we are seeing across the country this year as a result of the outbreak of Covid-19, we are urging those in employment to take steps towards protecting their mental health and their ability to earn an income.

Richard Jones, Aviva Life & Pensions

A sincerely worrying trend is that 35% of people think they will survive on the State Disability payment of €203 per week if they were off sick long term, due to mental health or another specified illness. 17% would rely on their partner and only 17% have enough savings for one year.   These expectations are in stark contrast to the reality we see every day.  In 2019 alone, we paid out an average of €3,000 each month per claimant - that’s €100,000 over three years - to customers who have income protection policies with us.  Most claims last an average of five years, with many greatly exceeding this timeframe.  These are real figures representing real people and highlight the fact that things can and do go wrong in certain peoples’ lives.  This underlines just how important it is to have the right cover in place should someone find themselves without their income due to illness, which is an ever more present worry for today’s workforce.

“The research findings highlight that Covid-19 has increased many peoples’ stress and anxiety levels. A person’s mental health is a critical part of their overall wellbeing and has an enormous impact on how they function in their daily lives. However, one of the key positives that we can take from the research findings is that there is a much higher awareness that mental health needs to be minded as much as our physical health. This was clearly evidenced in the response to the top personal priorities, with self-care and well-being ahead of a focus on career and work,” concluded Richard Jones.

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