Two in five senior leaders using drugs or alcohol to alleviate Covid-19 worries


Two in five (38%) business leaders in the UK have turned to alcohol or drugs to cope with mental ill health during the pandemic, with 36% admitting they self-medicate because they cannot talk to anybody about their wellbeing concerns.

According to Bupa Global, 64% of UK board-level executives it polled have turned to potentially unhealthy coping mechanisms to manage symptoms of poor mental health this year.

Some used recreational or over-the-counter drugs or drank more alcohol than they should, while others used cigarettes, vaping, excessive exercise, or over- or under-eating to distract themselves from their concerns.

A third (34%) turned to shopping and spending and 16% used gambling to cope.

Some 33% of UK business leaders have experienced fatigue, 26% lack of motivation, 26% mood swings and 25% disturbed sleep because of Covid-19 related worries.

However, despite numerous campaigns to encourage people to open up about their mental health concerns this year, 42% of board-level executives felt their reputation would be harmed if it became known they were struggling and 39% said they would not seek help for fear of it impacting their social or professional standing. Just 27% had spoken to a medical professional.

Dr Luke James, Bupa Global’s medical director said: “The pandemic is taking its toll on business leaders. With complex networks of colleagues, investors, affiliates as well as their own families to consider, it’s no surprise that many have felt that they must ‘keep calm and carry on’, rather than facing up to mental health issues head on.

“At the same time, many of the mechanisms people typically use to cope with such stress and anxieties such as seeing friends and family, going to the gym, on holiday and even going to work have been diminished, and replaced with other, more addictive substitutes such as increased alcohol consumption, self-medication, substance abuse, and gambling.

“But while self-medication can seem like a quick-fix solution that may help with anxiety or depression in the short term, it won’t solve the underlying mental health issues and could ultimately make things worse. When it comes to mental ill-health, early diagnosis and treatment improves outcomes, and as we face even greater challenges to our mental health over winter, I’d urge anyone who might be struggling to come forward.”

Poppy Jaman, CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance, commented: “Leading by example is crucial to breaking down the stigma attached to mental illness. Encouraging compassionate dialogue which leads to positive action is crucial to creating psychologically safe workplace cultures where everyone can flourish.

“Workplaces that nurture talent, train line managers, put mental health and wellbeing on the board agenda are building resilient businesses which in turn will be able to face these challenging times.”

The survey results feature in Bupa Global’s Executive Wellbeing Index. The Opinium research was conducted among 450 high net worth individuals in the UK, USA, France, UAE and Egypt, 322 of whom were board-level executives. Some 100 were based in the UK, 72 of whom sit on a company board.

2 Responses to Two in five senior leaders using drugs or alcohol to alleviate Covid-19 worries

  1. Avatar
    Harold A Maio 9 Dec 2020 at 11:12 pm #

    —-breaking down the stigma attached to mental illness???

    I am certain you mean “Re-educate those taught and teaching that prejudice.”

    You do, do you not?

  2. Avatar
    Elaine Cheesman 6 Mar 2021 at 9:21 pm #

    Mental illness in employees does require some compassion and support from occupational health and managers both working together to enable an improvement in the situation as a whole including the health of all concerned. If the person suffering mental illness continues long term they may be extremely relieved to face their denial of an alcohol or drug related problem, even if they eventually leave their job. this does require sensitivity, regular monitoring with good management and communication in my view, as an experienced occupational health specialist now retired.

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