Lucía Prieto (35 years old) was a teacher much appreciated by the Concerted School that employed her in Fuenlabrada (Madrid). “They counted on me for everything. You could tell they were very happy.” In 2021, after two courses, he began suffering from anxiety, which he soon identified because he had already experienced it in the past. “I’ve gone up to three nights in a row without sleep, it was very hard. I took days off to recover, but one day I couldn’t take it anymore and they gave me about four months’ sick leave,” he explains. When he returned to his position, everything changed: he was 24 Class hours worked, almost a full day of classes, and they changed his contract to just six hours and spread it out Monday through Friday (“if they could split them into two days with no problem,” he denounces).He spoke to the union, the he belonged to, and she explained to him that, given such a significant reduction in working hours, if the wages did not compensate him, he had the right to ask for his dismissal: “I am sure that they would give me the n wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t put myself on anxiety leave. With a colleague who had even been offered to become part of the teachers’ cooperative that runs the center, they went even further: they fired her after three months’ vacation out of fear and tried to disguise the dismissal as a factual dismissal. The court obviously gave him the reason and recognized that it was a case of unfair dismissal,” he adds.
The company of Laia San José (35 years old), a franchisee of a large telephone company, did not even wait for her dismissal to fire her: “I had so much pressure at work that I went through an anxiety crisis while serving customers. An ambulance even had to come to take me to the hospital. That was in the morning. Well, in the afternoon the boss called me to ask me when I’d be back, they weren’t even interested in how I was doing. A month later I received the dismissal at home retrospectively from the day I had the crisis. The judiciary also agreed with him, as is usual before practices of this kind.
Testimonies like this are not anecdotal. A 2014 UK study attributed 13% of absenteeism to anxiety issues. But despite the growing awareness of the importance of mental health, there are still companies that underestimate or doubt the veracity of these pathologies. “This is a common occurrence in many companies and has significant health implications for workers,” says José David Cuenca, human resources specialist at the Official College of Psychology of Western Andalusia. “There’s still the stigma, ‘This guy is looking for a release or it won’t be that bad.'” That’s exactly the perception Prieto had: “It’s awful. They either believe you and think you’re mentally weak, or they don’t believe you and think you’re an idiot. There is no middle ground, it is not seen as a disease that you can overcome or learn to deal with. “I know that colleagues have hacked into my Facebook at the request of their bosses to see if it was really as bad as they said it was,” San José adds.
Being fired or reduced wages are not the only reprisals that threaten workers with anxiety or depression. Mercedes’ boss (name changed) overwhelmed her throughout her sick leave: “She kept asking me when I’d be back. When I told him it would take a month, he replied, ‘Jolin, what do we do now?’ Contrary to her doctor’s recommendations, she asked for voluntary release “out of fear of being released,” explains the 30-year-old from Tarragona.
Prieto suffered consequences at his job Juan Manuel Serrano Arce after a scared holiday
Something similar happens to Gloria, who also does not want to give her real name and is now on leave out of fear. “I keep getting calls from work. It’s desperate. What I need is to switch off to get better, but I can’t.” The calls that hurt him the most are those from his boss: “He knows very well how I feel, but he tells me: ‘In confidence, when do you think you’ll be back?’ It’s vicious, he’s doing it to put pressure on him. He knows I’m a responsible person, that I want to work, and he makes me feel guilty.” She believes the main reason for her anxiety crisis is overwork: “I’m a psychologist in a day care center for people with dementia. It’s a very demanding job and there is an overwork problem. We are under a lot of pressure, we work a lot more hours than we are paid… When you are sick, verbalize it and the pace doesn’t slow down, they show you that they don’t care about workers’ health”. Gloria believes that most psychiatric illnesses are related to stress at work.
The book Sedados: How Modern Capitalism Created the Mental Health Crisis (Captain Swing, 2022), the work of James Davies, Professor of Social Anthropology and Psychotherapy at the University of Roehampton (UK), is based on this premise. “People suffer because they may be doing work that they find meaningless or emotionally numbing; They may be overworked and underpaid, or in an economy where there are huge structural problems affecting their well-being: stagnant wages, rising wage inequality, increasing short-termism in the labor market, erosion of unionized labor protections, longer working hours, less job security , greater precariousness…”, he explains in an interview with this newspaper. “We must not medicalize these problems, but tackle them on a social and political level. The mental health narrative helps us avoid that. It depoliticizes our fear and blames us rather than the systems in which we work and operate.” “Typically,” Davies continues, “the person is simply responding to harmful environments or workplace abuse, which is the ultimate goals of our interventions and reforms should be.”
Davies is particularly critical that the solution to this type of problem is through medication. Antonio Cano, professor of psychology at the Complutense University and former president of the Spanish Society for the Study of Anxiety and Stress (SEAS), also denounces the misuse of antidepressants in the healthcare system: “People need to be educated and trained so that they know what to do at the cognitive and behavioral level when confronting situations that generate stress, but there are no clinical psychologists in primary care. Then where do the people go who cannot pay 80 euros per session? Well, to the GP, who’ll see her in five minutes. Problems don’t go away with a drug in the long run.” Cano insists that it’s “normal” to experience stress from “overwork, office abuse, bad economic conditions, yelling… It’s normal for Sunday to come and you’re worried, because tomorrow is Monday.”
Spain dedicates almost 4% of health investment to mental health (the European average is 5.5% and there are countries that reach 10%) and there are 11 psychiatrists per 100,000 inhabitants on the public network, half of them in France or Germany (the draft General Psychiatric Law stipulates 18 psychiatrists per 100,000 inhabitants). Clinical psychologists are even fewer: 6 per 100,000 inhabitants (three times less than the European average). The prevalence of mental illness is higher in women than in men (34.3% of women over 40 used antidepressants, anxiolytics or tranquilizers compared to 17.8% of men, according to Health data in 2017), a fact that is increasing worsened during the pandemic.
“It’s important that companies have tools they can use to address these issues: awareness campaigns, mental health programs, equality plans…” adds Cuenca, who is used to treating patients with anxiety because they’re afraid of being fired to become: “The downsizing creates a lot of stress. It’s normal for people to come into the office and say “there was an ERE and I know I’ll be the next one, I need to be in the office more so they don’t fire me”. This stress prevents the employee from performing well.”
The psychologist stresses that companies themselves have a lot to lose if they don’t address these issues: “Prevention helps keep employees healthy and the productivity of the company.” A study by UK consultancy Deloitte supports this idea: For every pound that invested in resources to improve mental health in the workplace, companies are estimated to earn £5 in less absenteeism. “Proactive companies invest in the well-being of their employees, and those that do save money in the long run. There is a correlation between prioritizing worker mental health and improving loyalty and productivity and reducing sick leave,” says one of the authors, Paul Farmer. Similarly, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assures that depression costs 200 million workdays for companies in the country.
“It’s unfair if they don’t believe you”
Not all companies react badly when their employees have mental health problems. “Now the opposite of what happened back then has happened to me,” explains San José. He again had mental problems, but the company where he experienced this episode did not cause him any problems: “They behaved very well with me. They gave me the opportunity to go to the psychologist, which usually causes conflict because you have to go regularly. There were times when I needed to work remotely and they allowed me to.” “It made me even more aware of how unfair it is when you don’t believe someone or when you’re abused,” continues San José, “I know many people whose work has significantly worsened their mental health.”
Several of the participants in this report use the same metaphor to explain their frustration: “When you have a broken leg, everyone understands that you’re on sick leave, but when you’re anxious or depressed, they don’t understand because it’s not visible to the bare.” Eye.” Prieto develops this idea: “If you have another problem, an injury, or an illness, it’s okay to say so, but when it’s anxiety or depression, we tend to hide it. We’re embarrassed and it shouldn’t be. We need to get out of the closet, both at home and at work.”
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