The Bupa Global Executive Wellbeing index shows impact of the pandemic on high achievers and wealth creators Image Credit: Supplied

Despite been optimistic about post-Covid recovery, UAE’s high net-worth individuals have admitted to battling mental health issues in isolation to protect reputation, many suffering burnouts and exhaustion.

These findings are part of the Bupa Global Executive Wellbeing study analysing the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world’s high-net-worth community. The index surveyed almost 2,000 HNWIs and senior business executives based across Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia.

Dean Pollard, General Manager of Bupa Global for the Africa, India and Middle East (BGAIM) said, “This global study has analysed how the world’s high-net-worth individuals and senior executives perceive personal wellbeing, the health of their family, work-life balance, healthcare infrastructure and the economy. It has generated a significant shift in behaviour and will certainly reflect on the way business is conducted in the long term.”

Economic Outlook: cautious optimism

The report revealed that HNWIs in the UAE are amongst the most optimistic about post-Covid economic recovery, compared to their counterparts in Egypt, United Kingdom (UK), United States of America (USA) and France. Despite the economic slowdown, the study found that 88 per cent of respondents in the UAE felt optimistic about local market recovery in comparison to an average of 50 per cent in the other markets. However, there is greater uncertainty amongst UAE’s HNWIs about global prospects, with only 38 per cent feeling optimistic that the world economy will bounce back – slightly higher than the average global sentiment which remains at 26 per cent.

Mental Health: attitude shifts

The pandemic has brought about extensive physical and emotional fallout. In the UAE, mental health challenges are significantly higher compared to the rest of the world. More than a quarter (28 per cent) complained of burnouts, compared to 17 per cent globally and a fifth (21 per cent) experienced obsessive or compulsive thoughts, compared to just 10 per cent globally. Respondents also reported more cases of sadness and anxiety (35 per cent), mental exhaustion (28 per cent) and mood swings (27 per cent) and almost a quarter (24 per cent) reported feeling helpless or hopeless, significantly more than the global average (15 per cent).

The report showed people taking their mental health more seriously now than they did five years ago. Over a third (37 per cent) spoke to a doctor or mental health professional, significantly more than the global average (26 per cent), and a third (32 per cent) accessed virtual medical services or used online support resources.

The study showed high achievers ready to re-evaluated their values and goals and many do not want to go back to the fast pace of life they had before. Around 64 per cent are re-assessing their priorities and goals, 63 per cent are spending more time focusing on their physical and mental wellbeing by changing their diet and exercise and 66 per cent are rediscovering their passions and hobbies. Over half of the UAE respondents (53 per cent) do not intend to return to their fast-paced lifestyle in a post-Covid-19 world.

Work life: technology over travel

The research confirmed that many businesses have used this time as a catalyst for change. Around 67 per cent stated that the pandemic has made them reconsider how much time they spend away on work. Respondents in the UAE felt the mental health benefits of less travel and nights away, with almost half of the respondents (46 per cent) enjoying the time away from the road. Most planned to reduce the time they spent travelling – cutting down the pre-pandemic average of 5.4 hours per week on work-related travel to 4.6 hours.

For many, this time meant rapidly evolving and finding new ways of working while maintaining social distancing. Most of those surveyed used technology to fill the gap - over a third (35 per cent) would like their employer to conduct board meetings/ important meetings remotely, 33 per cent plan to spend most of their time working from home and 24 per cent want their companies to explore flexible working arrangements and to invest in technology for the long-term.

Healthcare and insurance: new frontiers

Three quarters of the respondents also shared that their attitude towards the UAE healthcare system improved during the COVID-19 pandemic, with increase in approvals for public and private medical systems alike. In tandem, the pandemic also increased scrutiny of medical insurance policies with three in ten (29 per cent) now expecting coverage for private treatment for infectious illnesses and 28 per cent for preventive care, such as health checks and vaccines. In line with the uptick in mental health issues, over a quarter (28 per cent) think policies should include maintenance of good mental health as well.

Family unity: stronger bonds

Over half (57 per cent) of the respondents in the UAE admitted to battling mental health issues in isolation, due to fear of damaging personal and family reputations. In addition, 96 per cent of those with a partner or children noticed symptoms of poor mental health in their families – compared to a global average of 68per cent.

Retail and wellness

A significant number of respondents turned to "retail therapy" to alleviate mental health symptoms. Almost half (48 per cent) took to shopping during the pandemic – a rise from 45 per cent. Going forward 35 per cent intend to exercise more regularly.