High Achievers and Mental Health: What is the Link?

Emily Addison

Wrote this on, July 12, 2021

high achievers

When it comes to mental health, we have been taught to look out for the typical signs that someone is struggling, like changes in behaviour, appearance and mood. But quite often, the people who need help look a lot like people who don’t need help! We’re talking about the high achievers, your top performers, the people who seem to have everything under control and continue to deliver high-quality work and results. Research has found that it is these people who often end up struggling with their mental health and do so in silence.

Key Research Findings

The mental health of 20% of the top-performing UK business leaders is affected by corporate burnout

  • Burnout predominantly happens to high performers and is sometimes described as ‘overachiever syndrome
  • Individuals with higher IQs are at a higher risk of developing psychological disorders.
  • CEOs may be at twice the risk of developing depression compared to the general population.
  • A-Grade achievers are four times more likely to develop a mental illness than those who achieve average grades. 
  • Burnout predominantly occurs during the first ten years of a career, when employees are aged between 20 and 30.
  • Early signs of burnout include lower back or neck pains, increased use of painkillers and caffeine, disrupted sleep patterns, changes in eating habits and increase alcohol consumption.

To help the high-achievers in your business avoid burnout, we recommend sharing this poster to help them spot the signs of stress and better manage a heavy workload.

But why are high achievers and performers at a higher risk?

Characteristics of a high achiever

High achievers are ambitious, goal-focused, self-disciplined individuals, who are driven by a strong personal desire to accomplish meaningful, important goals in all aspects of life: career, relationships, social life and hobbies etc. Typical characteristics of high achievers include:
– Optimistic
– Visionary
– Clutter-free
– Output-focussed
– Action-oriented
– Disciplined
– Flexible
– Seek opportunities
– Organised
– Motivated
– Helpful
– Keen to build knowledge

high achievers mental health

Why are high achievers at high risk for developing ill mental health?

For the same reasons that high performers excel at their jobs, they are more susceptible to struggle with their mental health. High performers often get given the hardest projects. They regularly must compensate for weaker team members. They engage in extra activities and offer support to other individuals/teams/projects which are unrelated to their own tasks.

At an individual level, high achievers often suffer from perfectionism, imposter syndrome, self-doubt and anxiety. The stress of constantly striving to reach an almost impossible goal coupled with the ever-present fear of failure can be a major source of stress. Your top talent are likely to continue to push themselves harder to achieve success, even when they are struggling. This means they ignore their personal needs and adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms to “get the job done”.

High achievers prioritise success, which often comes at a sacrifice of time spent with friends and family which significantly increases feelings of loneliness. This is even more prominent in leaders who do not socialise with colleagues to retain professional boundaries. These people are your best assets, yet they are suffering in silence and often hit crisis point before seeking help.

Why do high achievers avoid getting help?

There is still a stigma around mental health and accessing support, and for high achievers who feel the pressure to ‘stay on top’, admitting they need help can be an even bigger hurdle. High achievers may be worried to ask for help as it can risk their image of being successful and dependable. They see themselves as problem solvers, not problem makers. They do not want to appear weak or incapable, or as if they have ‘failed’; so instead of seeking help, they bottle it up until they break.

high achievers mental health

We also know high achievers are optimistic. They may not even see that they need help, they may think it is a phase that will pass, or that their problems do not warrant attention and others are more in need of help than them. It is also often down to an individuals’ time and priorities, and unfortunately seeking help is not an option when they have “so many other things to do”. Therefore, we must help protect the mental health of high achievers, for them.

How can you support the mental health of high achievers?

  • Promote a supportive environment where employees can talk about mental health
  • Regularly carry out mental health risk assessments
  • Educate your employees on the importance of looking after their wellbeing and asking for help should they need it
  • Provide employees with clear signposting for mental health support
  • Ensure that workload is spread evenly
  • Train employees in stress management techniques
  • Provide flexible working options
  • Consider if 24/7 communication is necessary for your business
  • Ensure that employees take breaks and holiday time
  • Make sure that managers check on the wellbeing of their direct reports in 1:1s
  • Offer coaching and/or mentoring schemes
  • Embed mental health champions within the organisation
  • Ensure that employee goals and objectives are SMART

Everymind at Work aims to support the mental health of employees in the workplace. Understanding where employees struggle is a fundamental part of supporting their overall wellbeing. For more information on how we can support your business, get in touch with us today or find out more information here.

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