Former Financier Helps Stressed City Workers

by Hannah Punitha on Oct 8 2008 6:56 PM

 Former Financier Helps Stressed City Workers
Having himself suffered a total breakdown at the office, former corporate finance specialist Jonathan Naess is wellqualified to run a charity helping stressed-out workers in London's City district.
And he is not short of clients experts report an increase in visits to mental health professionals in the capital s financial quarter as the credit crunch, which has led to thousands of job cuts in finance, piles the pressure on the industry's already cut-throat work culture.

Work is one of the places where we understand our abilities, our talents, who we are, said Naess, now the director of Stand to Reason, a charity specialising in work related mental health.

Major reorganisations pending within organisations, the lack of control that people have over their working life and the concerns they may have around how they may be impacted, we know are a major cause of workplace stress.

Naess, 40, is no stranger to stress he broke down in his early twenties, shortly after graduating from Oxford University, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which can be triggered by stress.

Later, while a partner at corporate finance firm Nabarro Wells, he was admitted into a psychiatric hospital after suffering a major breakdown at work, following several days of little or no sleep in a high stress environment.

I was at work, and had been going to work really right up until the point where I was very sick. I had very little knowledge of the symptoms and didn't pick up on the very clear warning signs, he told AFP.

He took a sabbatical in March 2007 to set up his charity, and Stand to Reason now counts among its backers Dennis Stevenson, the chairman of HBOS, the mortgage lender recently acquired by Lloyds TSB bank.

Naess says that increasing numbers of people are being referred to mental health professionals for counselling, a trend that Michael Sinclair, a consultant psychologist, has also seen.

Since the onset of the credit crunch, there's been a growing sense of stress and anxiety in relation to potential redundancies, Sinclair, who estimates between 90 and 95 percent of his clients are City workers, told AFP.

The Samaritans support service said last month they had seen more than a 25 percent increase in telephone calls in August and September in their central London branch, from 3,500 to 4,500, compared to the same time last year.

In Sinclair's view, the work environment in London's finance industry has a detrimental effect on mental health, with many employees fearful of admitting to feeling stressed, thereby compounding the problem.

It's a very driven and very goal orientated business environment, and weakness is just not acceptable, he said.

There's something particular in this industry in relation to the stigma around mental health and how that affects mental health in an unhelpful way.

He added: It goes towards exacerbating a lot of mental health problems in the City, the reluctance to talk about it.

Dealing with it will not be easy Naess recommends a steady diet of training for managers and backing for flexible working hours so that employees will feel more comfortable leaving work for treatment, among other things.

He has big plans for his charity, outlining his hope that it will eventually have a similar impact on workplace culture to Stonewall, which has successfully fought for more gay friendly office environments in Britain.

On a personal level, Naess insists his current project will not last forever and that he will eventually return to the world of international finance.

What helped me get better both times was being at work, he said.


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