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Davos 2020: Experts to warn of five-fold increase in referrals to psychiatric clinics as bipolar becomes 'CEO disease'

Phoebe Southworth
The venue of Davos 2020 in Switzerland this year - REX

Davos organisers are to be warned of a five-fold increase in referrals to psychiatric clinics, as mental health experts say bipolar is now known as "CEO disease".

At the World Economic Forum in Switzerland next week, some of the world's top business people and politicians will be told that the very traits which make exceptional senior executives are also linked to addiction, depression and anxiety.

And while tenacity, resilience and risk-taking tendencies are sought-after qualities in the boardroom, they can take a toll on mental and physical wellbeing, Paracelsus Recovery, a leading psychiatric treatment centre in London, will explain.

The clinic has identified a 500 per cent increase in referrals of CEOs in the last seven years, with bipolar disorder in particular becoming increasingly prevalent among those at the top of their professions. The condition causes depression coupled with periods of mania, which means feeling restless or overactive.

The company's own CEO, Dr Marta Ra, who will address the Davos forum on the subject, said: “We are seeing an epidemic of mental ill health in the boardroom.

"It is increasingly clear that the traits that allow people to rise to the top of companies also predispose them to anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.

"To break the mental health stigma, boardrooms must strive to implement policies and practices that deal with mental health in a compassionate and understanding manner.

"The benefits of breaking the stigma that permeates in C-Suite environments is widespread."

The clinic has identified loneliness and profound stress as key factors driving the poor mental health epidemic among CEOs.

Working around the clock, which disturbs the sleep cycle and contributes to a weakened immune system, make top executives more likely to suffer from illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, Paracelsus Recovery warn.

The adrenaline-fuelled productivity of CEOs is also detrimental long term, as it releases stress hormones into the body which affect the brain's ability to store memories and regulate emotion.

On top of this, Dr Ra will warn Davos attendees, including US President Donald Trump and Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi, that personality traits which drive innovation among top earners, including rigorous perfectionism and unwavering professional commitment, can also lead to health being treated as an afterthought.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel, Dr Ra will explain, as there are ways to tackle the associated afflictions of being a high achiever.

Mindfulness, sleep regulation and early diagnosis of mental health conditions are all tools in our armoury in tackling the issue.

Business leaders around the world will also be told that for every 70p invested in the mental health of employees, bosses can expect a £3 return in increased productivity.

The World Economic Forum, which begins in the Alpine ski resort of Davos on Tuesday, is an opportunity for high profile individuals and experts to influence the global agenda.

Previous speakers include the Duke of Cambridge, who last year spoke out about tackling the mental health stigma.