Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) runs from 9to 15 May 2022. This year’s theme is loneliness.
As part of our series on Reproductive Health in the Workplace, we want to explore the loneliness that can be associated with reproductive health issues.
We know that most people may be affected by reproductive health issues at some point during their lives, whether this is experienced directly or indirectly.
The challenges of reproductive health can present themselves at a number of stages during the reproductive health life cycle, from: menstrual health to menopause, pregnancy and maternity, endometriosis and fertility challenges, to miscarriages and baby loss. These challenges may not only have a physical effect on the individual, but often impact the individual’s mental health and wellbeing, which may lead to loneliness and isolation.
Considering some of the statistics around reproductive health can help to explain why people may feel lonely and isolated:
- According to a Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) report, although IVF has a rising success rate, the success rate in 2019 for patients aged 35- 37 was still as low as 25%. This means that, unfortunately, most IVF cycles do not work.
- A report in the Lancet featuring findings from Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research show that the impact of miscarriage can “include profound psychological effects on both parents: miscarriage almost quadrupled the risk of suicide, doubled the risk of depression, and similarly raised the risk of anxiety.”
- According to the NHS, “Depression in pregnancy (antenatal depression) is also common. Around 1 in 8 people will experience depression during their pregnancy.” In addition, postnatal depression affects “more than 1 in 10 women within a year of giving birth. It can also affect fathers and partners.”
In addition, let’s not forget those who decide they don’t want children; they too may suffer feelings of loneliness related to their decision, which could in turn lead to mental health issues.
Loneliness can manifest itself in many different ways. For example, feeling that you are alone in your situation, that people don’t understand what you are experiencing, that you’re not able to share what you’re going through and/or not wanting to burden other people; being withdrawn when in the company of others or not wanting to be around others (e.g. children or those with children), not feeling able to share with an employer for fear of repercussions.
Often sharing experiences, whether direct or indirect, can be difficult and painful for the reasons outlined above. This can be exacerbated by the perceived or actual stigma and taboo which surrounds these issues. In practice, this may mean employees suffer in silence in the workplace. Carrying this pain in silence can impact people not only physically, but mentally as well, which in turn may impact on an employee’s performance and ability to carry out their role.
Recently, the BBC reported that multi- Olympic medal winning cyclist Laura Kenny had suffered a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy. The article reported that Laura wrote on her Instagram story: "Jason and I felt lonely going through it and like we had taken the happiness away from our families by not telling them. They didn't get the joy of thinking another baby was on the way, only the sad.”
And it’s not only those who suffer the challenges of reproductive health directly who can be profoundly affected by these issues. Partners, family and/or friends may also experience loneliness and an impact on their mental health. The BBC news website has touched upon this issue in a podcast, called Dad Still Standing, featuring fathers who have experienced baby loss.
What can employers do?
Employers must be mindful that when it comes to addressing loneliness and mental health in the workplace, there is no one size fits all approach. Your approach should be adapted to the individual and their personal circumstances. However, some actions employers may want to consider include:
- Educating People and Development/ HR and line managers about the challenges of reproductive health in the workplace and the associated loneliness and impact on mental health that could ensue.
- Raising awareness amongst staff.
- Breaking the silence and taboo about reproductive health, loneliness and mental health and igniting the conversation.
- Providing a safe place to discuss reproductive health, loneliness and mental health issues; taking steps to create a workplace that is open and supportive and free from stigma.
- Signposting staff to support that is available, either via charitable organisations, or Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) (see some examples below).
- Setting up and facilitating peer support groups, which will allow those going through similar issues to share experiences, gain support, increase feelings of belonging and decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness. These could be in person, online or a mixture of both.
- Introducing Mental Health First Aiders and/or reproductive health champions, as appropriate.
- Encouraging people to talk to whoever they feel comfortable talking to and provide quiet, confidential spaces for this to happen in the workplace.
- Investing in third party support, such as an EAP, which allows employees to access assistance about mental health and other matters in confidence.
- Reading our reproductive health series to help you understand the challenges employees can face and learn some ideas on how you can support your employees.
- Drawing inspiration from other employers and share the steps you have put in place to help and inspire other organisations to do the same.
Organisations offering support
The list below is by no means intended to be comprehensive or exhaustive (and we are not medical professionals), but we hope that it signposts our readers to organisations that may be able to assist anyone who is currently suffering with loneliness (or other mental health issues) due to reproductive health issues.
- Your organisation’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP)
- The employee’s GP or other treating medical professional
- Samaritans- https://www.samaritans.org/
- Emergency care, e.g. A&E
Education and awareness in this area are the first steps to addressing loneliness for those experiencing reproductive health challenges.
We urge all employers to consider whether you have an understanding of these issues and the challenges that your employees may face and if not, to take steps to do so, with a view to providing support to your employees facing loneliness and helping to improve their mental health and wellbeing.
Please do get in touch with our experienced Employment Team if you have any queries.
“Brabners in Lancashire is located at Sceptre Court, Walton Summit. If you would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please give us a ring on 01772 823921, quote “Lancashare” and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.
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