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Software Developers and Mental Health – Is That an Issue?

Grzegorz Smialek 45f04a104a

07/06/2021 |

6 min read

Grzegorz Śmiałek

Neglected and invisible, they do exist in society as a whole and among software developers, too. Due to social stigma and discrimination, however, it’s difficult for many people to stand up and look for help when dealing with mental health crises. It may especially be the case if you’re an achiever, like many IT professionals. 

Mental health problems or conditions are taboo in other industries, too, but they are especially difficult to trace among software developers who work remotely very often. 

But this issue certainly should be addressed by the managers who also must be aware that such conditions as stress, burnout, anxiety, or depression may have negative consequences regarding both the quality of the developers’ work and their employee retention rates. There is no doubt that unresolved mental issues at work are harmful and costly for everybody involved. 

But how serious is this problem among software developers, and society as a whole? Let’s see.


Software developers’ mental health

The StackOverflow’s 2020 Developer Survey showed that as for mental health and differences IT specialists revealed they lived with the following conditions:

  •  "an anxiety disorder" – 7.2% of respondents,
  •  "a mood or emotional disorder (e.g. depression, bipolar disorder)” – 7.2% of respondents,
  •  "a concentration and/or memory disorder (e.g. ADHD)" – 5.4% of respondents,
  •  "autism / an autism spectrum disorder" – 2.3% of respondents.

Those numbers seem to be disturbingly high (adding up to as much as 22.1%). It’s worth mentioning, however, that the survey had been conducted in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic started to influence people’s lives so greatly. 

And while software developers’ positions have been saved, and they even started to earn more within the year 2020 (an 18% rise for B2B contracts in Poland), that does not mean they were able to preserve stability many people need. Home office, instead of a perk, has become the imminent element of the new normal, and for some – even a curse. Especially if you have to work with babies by your side, and lack social contacts or sports activities that help keep your sanity. 


Mental disorders – overview

Globally, one in four people is to experience a mental health condition in their lives. And despite nearly a billion people worldwide struggling with a mental disorder right now, countries spend, on average, as little as 2% of their health budgets on mental health, the World Health Organization warns.

Of course, there are more stable and more challenging periods in our lives. The latter include times when we lose a relative, go through a divorce, have young children and demanding work at once, or feel lonely and useless when elderly. Also, what may undermine our mental health are sudden and stressful situations involving our health like serious accidents or… a pandemic – and we all have been dealing with one for over a year. The results of this state are horrifying, for many.


Polish employees’ minds before and during the pandemic

Drug and alcohol abuse, overeating, working longer hours remotely than in the on-site model, as well as chronic stress undermining productivity, creativity, and motivation – psychologists and psychiatrists keep on warning that this is how the COVID-19 pandemic influences our lives. Stress and anxiety are often caused by instability and uncertainty regarding the future.

According to a Hays survey conducted in September 2020, one in third (32%) of Polish specialists and managers said their mental health suffered during the pandemic. In the first half of 2020, Polish ZUS recorded a 72% rise year to year in the number of sick leaves due to depression. And it was even back in the non-pandemic year 2015 when 54% of Polish workers said they experienced stress often, very often or too often, that was above the average value (44%) for other major European countries surveyed for ADP’s "The Workforce View in Europe".

Also, as many as 42% of Polish workers say they would not disclose to the employer that they suffer from mental disorders. And it’s easier for them to hide their deteriorating mental condition working remotely than when meeting with others at the office. But this will have consequences, either immediate or delayed.


Burnout, anxiety, low self-esteem, sadness...

Even without additional stressors, like various health concerns or isolation, developers have to deal with a lot of negative feelings. As we read in the article by Dr. Ramyashilpa D. Nayak, IT professionals "go through a lot of anxiety, depression and loneliness because of their work environment and often display feelings of inadequacy, lowered self-esteem, and dissatisfaction".

What can be done to help them? First of all, we shouldn’t underestimate developers’ well-being and work-life balance, as their unhappiness may have grave consequences, also regarding their effectiveness and quality of their work. Some of the "Consequences of Unhappiness While Developing Software" include:

  • low cognitive performance (e.g. low focus), 
  • mental unease or disorder (burnout, anxiety, low self-esteem, sadness), 
  • low motivation (that may result in a very slow pace of work), 
  • work withdrawal, 
  • low productivity and difficulties in meeting deadlines. 

Also, being unhappy when working may produce low code quality (the code is messier, less performant, sloppier, and has more bugs) as well as discharging code, e.g. deleting parts of code or even entire projects when angry).


Tackling mental health issues – Codete’s way

Luckily, mental health is not taboo anymore, and employees, especially the youngest ones, are well aware that it’s something important that the employer should take care of, too. They expect an open and supportive atmosphere concerning mental health to be created that makes them look for psychological assistance when needed but also provides access to various mental health benefits, tools, and resources. 

Some of the world-renowned companies that do so and implement the policy of putting mental health first are Unilever, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, and EY. And Codete is ahead of many competitors here as it offers a variety of ways to support its employees’ mental health. They include:

Those initiatives are strongly appreciated and expected – employees said they needed them within the internal online survey held in April 2020. And such a multi-faceted approach to maintaining mental health is to be continued in the future.

Have you experienced such symptoms, as tearfulness, apathy, tiredness, sleeping disorders? 

If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, need psychological advice or assistance, don’t hesitate to call 800 70 2222. You can also test yourself for depression here: Burns Depression Checklist | Mental Health Resources.

Rated: 5.0 / 1 opinions
Grzegorz Smialek 45f04a104a

Grzegorz Śmiałek

Managing Director at Codete. He is a Master of Law and has a Harvard Business School degree. A business leader with extensive experience in finance and team management. Specialist in startups and business development.

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