Let’s imagine that whenever people got violently mugged, our culture would blithely comment on the bruises and sudden shortage of money as though the victim was largely to blame, and with no reference at all to the mugger. That would seem ludicrous, yet when it comes to mental health, something all too similar is happening.
Earlier this year, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer published a report which explicitly linked rising mental health problems with work stress. This may be news to you. The papers picked up on some obesity issues in the report and entirely ignored the mental health bit. I only know because I hunted down and read some of the original documents. some mental health problems are entirely chemical. Many are brought about by life experience.
Work stress makes people sick. This is not difficult to ascertain. I watch so many friends being asked to work longer hours and take extra responsibility with no additional money in the mix. With jobs still scarce, no one in a job will risk protest if the demands are too great. Sure, you’ll stay on late tonight, and tomorrow. Sure, you’ll do the job of the full time person who left and isn’t being replaced, and you’ll do it alongside everything you were already doing, because if you don’t, you might not have a job. With the way those on benefits are stigmatised, punished, and pushed deeper into crisis, who wouldn’t be terrified of going there? And if you can entirely hold your mental health together in face of the threats, pressures, humiliations and deprivations of falling into debt, unemployment or both, you’ll be an unusual creature indeed.
There are many implications to rising ill health in your populous. It’s not a viable way to run a country. Depressed people are not resplendent with energy, enthusiasm or innovation. Anxious people often end up with distorted thinking around risk. Having poor mental health does not, in my experience, contribute to making the best choices. Everything gets progressively harder.
Even if you can’t muster the compassion to care for the vast amount of human suffering this causes, there are profit implications. Exhausted people don’t concentrate as well. They make mistakes and cannot work quickly. The more you pile onto a person, the less able they become to do it. We all have limits and we will all break sooner or later. Break a person badly enough and they don’t fix. They become too ill to work – which has a financial cost to consider if you can’t muster any sympathy.
All you can get out of our current approach, is to squeeze some short term profits out of people. Long term, the cost will be high, in terms of broken health and shattered lives, a workforce too ill to work is not going to turn anyone a profit. Push people far enough and they can crack up entirely, which can result in death – suicide, murder or both. It’s not a way to run a country.
The depressed elephant is well and truly in the room. It is large, heavy and crushing people. We have a sick work culture, and we need to be talking more about the brutal amounts of pressure some people, many people, are enduring. If you’re being routinely mugged by a workplace, know that the bruises (which may be psychological) and the shortage of cash is there for a reason, and that reason is not you.