With each passing day, mental health in the workplace is being talked about more freely, more honestly, and with way less stigma than ever before. People know that shortages in staffing often mean employees are overworked and underappreciated, a primary cause for stress, anxiety, and depression. And no sector is more likely to run short on staff than the growing world of cybersecurity—a space that can always use new talent.
Observations suggest that cybersecurity is the employment of the future—but they also suggest the gap between job vacancies and incoming cybersecurity professionals is colossal. Worldwide organizations in in the field are feeling the pinch as they search for the skill and expertise they need to support and drive forward their business development.
From preventing ongoing threats to penetrating critical networks, it’s no wonder folks in the industry suffer from anxiety and depression—it’s a massive responsibility to work day to day in such a pressurized and tense environment, often working long hours at that. Thankfully, mental health is now considered an agenda item at many of the world-leading cybersecurity conferences. Experts are beginning to recognize that equal emphasis must be placed on both individuals and technology if we are to initiate a helping shift for the future.
Conferences such a Black Hat, which are often viewed as a community gathering of cybersecurity specialists, are gaining a reputation for inspiring conversations around mental illness, stress, trauma, and even suicide. Such discussions can only encourage employers to remain wide-eyed when it comes to the mental wellbeing of their staff, recognizing that mental health in the workplace is everyone’s responsibility—and again driving home a community-based approach.
Aside from the pressure-associated triggers of anxiety and depression in the cybersecurity arena, consideration must be given to other causes, including the high volume or employees in industry who are actually on the autistic spectrum. Although they are often renowned for their brilliance in number-based analysis and code, they are also susceptible to increased levels of mental illness. Hacker subculture is another great example, as it fascinates and entices people from a range of different backgrounds—and statistically, a percentage of these people will likely have some kind of preexisting mental health condition. Cybersecurity also lures a broad range of people who previously served in the armed forces, individuals who may have already been diagnosed with a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to the nature of their previous employment.
Evidence-based research from this year’s Black Hat conference concluded that cybersecurity workforces feel burdened with a level of responsibility and accountability that feels a lot like a first-responder to digital problems. This role carries with it feelings of guilt if something goes wrong and the belief that a simple oversight can have catastrophic consequences. Some people also report feeling chronically exhausted, as they are in a chronic state of alert, while others feel isolated with their work troubles and trapped in the confines of non-disclosure agreements, which means they are not able to share the struggles of their day with others or find support.
Maintaining overall wellness is vital and will help individuals to operate with maximum resilience. Tips for protecting your mental health as a cybersecurity worker are similar to those of most industries:
- Meditation, mindfulness, breathing, exercise
- Making time for the things that you enjoy with family and friends.
- Seeking professional help if approaches to self-care feel insufficient.
- Talking to those you trust about how you are feeling, your worries, and anxieties.
- Adopting a community-based approach in the workplace. Ensuring that you don’t have to face things alone.
In the coming years, job opportunities within cybersecurity are likely to stay robust, but crucial to staying on top of this growing demand for specialists will be an organization’s ability to properly protect the mental health of their workers—from the daily pressures, challenges, and stresses the role brings.
Most of us regularly upgrade the security of our PCs and mobile devices to enhance our safety, reduce vulnerability, and prevent malfunction, first and foremost organizations have a moral obligation to protect the machines of their people and their brains. When updating internal processes and procedures, employers must review and make current their approach to protecting the mental health of our society. If a machine breaks, we locate the broken part, and we replace it. But humans are not so easy fix, so it’s important to safeguard our most valuable assets through prevention, early intervention, and meaningful support.