Women high-flyers twice as stressed as men

Sarah Wiedersehn
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Juggling a family and a high-flying job could be costing many women their mental wellbeing.

Evidence from more than 30,000 private health assessments of Australian executives shows that women in their 30s and 40s in high level positions are twice as likely to experience stress, anxiety and depression than their male counterparts.

Mother-of-three Jan Swinhoe spent 16 years as an executive at Westpac and knows all about the struggle of balancing work and family.

“I wanted to be a great mum and I wanted to be very good at my job and I knew more than anything everyone was looking to me to provide a lot of stability,” Ms Swinhoe said.

Now a company director, Ms Swinhoe said her anxiety levels peaked later in her career, around the time her mother died.

Rather than sweep the issue under the carpet, Ms Swinhoe is encouraging working women to talk about their wellbeing, have a mental health assessment and seek help when needed.

“People often look at women who’ve had successful careers and think their lives are perfect. I think women in positions like mine feel they’ve had great opportunities and don’t want to complain. They don’t discuss any concerns, it seems self-indulgent,” Ms Swinhoe said.

But the concerns are real, as shown by the The Executive Health Index.

Created by Executive Health Solutions (EHS), the index is based on data from comprehensive health assessments of Australians in senior management positions across 20 leading industries.

The latest data from the index, released on Tuesday, shows that those with the highest rates of stress and depression were women in the 30-40 age group.

In this age group, significant mental health issues affected around seven per cent of women compared to three per cent of men.

Clinical and organisation psychologist Paul Flanagan said interestingly by the time female executives reached 50 they were “exactly the same as the men” in terms of mental wellbeing.

For men, the highest level of mental health issues was seen in those over 50.

The data suggests that the family/work juggle is the main culprit, said Mr Flanagan, a EHS board member.

“The family issues can range from managing a family or having primary caring responsibilities in a family but particularly for the younger executives its the issue of not having a family, wanting a family and when that’s going to happen,” Mr Flanagan said.

“Both having a family and not having a family can be equally stressful for women.”

Last year, the Jean Hailes Women’s Healthy Survey of 10,000 women found 40 per cent of women had been professionally diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

More than 40 per cent reported feeling anxious, nervous and ‘on the edge’, while many agreed to regularly feeling easily annoyed or irritated.

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