The Silent Stigma of Mental Health in the Tech Industry

5th May 2020


  • People working in the tech industry are more depressed
  • Incorrect assumption that mental health in the tech industry has had no impact from working from home
  • Read to find action items to help overcome these issues

By Ming Johanson

Many of my colleagues in the digital and tech space have felt more isolated than ever with many of us cut off from our communities and industry events that keep us mentally tethered to others and away from our technology. There is a dangerous and incorrect assumption that the mental health of the tech industry has had no impact from the isolation of working from home.

A recent report from BIMA, which questioned more than 3,000 members of the UK technology community, discovered that people working in the tech industry are five times more depressed than the general UK population. Further to this, they found that 52% had suffered from anxiety or depression at some point.

As an active ambassador for R U OK? I sat on an advisory board last year, discussing the challenges that I saw in my direct network—the isolation of consultancy work. The 'always-on' mentality. The fatigue and anxiety of working outside of regular hours of work, not to mention the underbudgeted projects where teams are overwhelmed with a lack of leadership. Of the 20+ mental health talks I've given in the past 3 years, this has been one of consistently most sold-out talks of our local events in the tech space.

Many people are out of work with the shrinkage of teams to manage revenue losses in an economic climate that mirrors the great depression in the 1930s. More than 110 retailers shut their doors due to covid19 and before this 161 popular retailers were already earmarked for closure in January due to weak Christmas period of sales.

With our loved ones struggling, our family dynamics adjusting to working from home, loss of work, reduction for many of us in becoming a one income family it is entirely understandable things are stretched more now than they ever have been. Here are five things to remember while we are all going through this collective experience.

1. Keep tethered to your team.

It may seem strange to say this for some of you because you might be on top of this. On the off-chance you're not, I'm saying this for the sake of your teams that work remotely.

It's not hard to maintain your peripheral vision of how they are going when you're in an office together. You see body language, hear the tone of voice, overhear conversations they have with other team members. In the moment great leaders can pick up these cues and know that something is amiss.

When we're working from home, we no longer have these cues to measure our team members' state of mental wellbeing. Organise team huddles, plan to have a verbal check-in with each team member to see how they are. It doesn't have to be an intervention, just a genuine check-in.

2. As a leader, you do not have to maintain an illusion.

Your team know when you are lying to them, now more than ever. Nobody is doing amazing through COVID-19. Even the most secure leaders are carrying a burden in their head around like a lead balloon.

Everyone, in some way, is struggling. You would be amazed by how much being 'not OK' makes it safe for everyone else to share their empathy with that. Leadership is as much about being a realist as it is a visionary who sees the path of success.

3. Find out ways you can contribute to your community.

Are you a seasoned tech that's been through many trials by fire? Great! Go mentor someone is going through their first crisis. Read a great book that gave you some insights and ideas. Start a book club. Have a story to tell to reflect on how life has unfolded for you. Share the lessons learned, write an article or a blog and put it on your LinkedIn.

4. Make time to check-in with your mates.

It doesn't have to be a serious question or confrontation, it can be a 'Hey you popped into my head, and I thought I'd say hi and see how you're going in the current climate' or it can be checking in on your mate while you're playing Skyrim or Witcher 3 or Castle Crashers.

5. Help your business community.

Yes, you with your vast tech knowledge and brains the size of planets. What simple thing can you do to help your local businesses get cashflow moving through their digital doors? With about 60% of companies who don't have a digital presence online in Australia, what affordable or free solution can you do to change that?

Remember this is temporary. Already we see restrictions beeing loosened. Pubs and restaurants will reopen. Opportunities will come flooding in again. On the other side of COVID-19, how will look back and tell your 'story' of surviving and thriving in the great apocalypse of 2020?


About the Author
Ming Johanson works with businesses across the globe from training social media to managing (with her team) complex digital strategies that deliver tangible and desirable financial returns. She is dedicated to shaping the landscape for leaders to adapt their management, sales and marketing culture to fit into the modern day world of hyper-connectivity. Recently recognised and awarded for her ongoing contribution to the technology industries in the 2019 Women In Technology Tech [+] 20 Awards. Ming is a passionate mental health Ambassador for R U OK? Day, a co-facilitator in Startup Weekend Perth and a regular Australian Media Commentator as a Tech Evangelist on a range of topics in Mental Health, Social Media & Technology, Ming also sits on the Western Australian Committee of the Australian Computer Society.