Financial services professionals are under pressure. In an environment where bankers are vilified, job prospects are increasingly limited and the prospect of redundancy looms large, mental health issues are becoming ever more common in the financial sector.
In fact, according to research released this week from Legal & General, depression and anxiety in the financial sector has reached a seven-year high. Banks have started to realise the importance of keeping their workforce healthy and happy – Goldman Sachs employs a ‘head of wellness’, Patrick Watt, specifically to ensure the ongoing health of its staff, for example.
Nonetheless, psychologists who treat financial services professionals are busier than ever. Dr Michael Sinclair, managing director at the City Psychology Group, said: “When there are rounds of redundancies, there’s always an influx of referrals or self-referrals from people in the banking sector. It happened in 2008, but the latest round of cuts have prompted record numbers into our surgery.”
If psychologists' practices are bulging with bankers, what are they checking in for? We polled a number of prominent City clinics to ask what the major behavioural and mental disorders affecting financial sector workers are. Below are the seven most common.
Psychologists report an increase in the number of financial sector workers coming to them with depression, ranging from mild to clinical depression, which could potentially lead to thoughts of suicide. Increasingly, triggers for depression can be career-related, with some bankers experiencing a lack of self-worth after losing their jobs or after prolonged periods of unemployment.
If you’re heading to the doctor with persistent pains that can’t be explained, this could be a psychological condition related to stress or anxiety. This could be anything from pins and needles to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that cannot be diagnosed medically. It’s common among those working in the financial sector, who would rather a medical doctor offer a solution than admit to what is often a psychological problem. Psychologists are reporting an increasing number of referrals from GPs.
There’s one thing having an intense focus on your career, and another becoming obsessed with personal aspirations and success. This personality disorder is particularly common among financiers, who like to appear grandiose, but are secretly hiding a fear of failure and rejection. “The competitive environment of banking tends to exacerbate narcissistic tendencies,” mused one psychologist we spoke to.
It’s better to show up to work ill, than demonstrate weakness and take a sick day, right? Well, no actually. Presenteeism – the tendency to turn up to work regardless of whether you feel healthy – is a dangerous cycle to get into. Working when you’re ill will lead to underperformance, which in turn adds to the sense of anxiety, usually over the prospect of job cuts, that’s spurring you into the office in the first place. This adds to pressure and tension, which could ultimately spiral into burnout.
It’s the classic answer to the old interview question about weaknesses – I’m too much of a perfectionist. In fact, setting unrealistically high performance targets for yourself (and beating yourself up when you don’t achieve them) is indicative of a personality disorder known as clinical perfectionism. Again, this stems from anxiety and fear of failure, suggest the psychologists we spoke to. Failure to reach these goals can also lead to depression.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is more commonly associated with those who have experienced a war zone than those on a trading floor. However, psychologists suggest that it’s become more common among financial sector workers. Predominantly, it’s senior bankers, who have constructed an image of themselves as a high-flying swashbuckling financier, only to have it unceremoniously whipped away from them when they’re made redundant. The loss of status is a trigger for post-traumatic stress disorders.
Panic attacks are a manifestation of an anxiety disorder that usually stems from a change of circumstance. Psychologists reported instances of previously confident bankers experiencing panic attacks in scenarios that are the bread and butter of their jobs – presentations and client meetings went from being routine to daunting experiences that would cause severe anxiety. Usually, there’s an external pressure that is the cause of the underlying condition, they suggested.