As part of mental health awareness week, the Mental Health Foundation has just published a report on the causes and effects of prolonged stress and its negative impacts on individuals and society as a whole. One might argue as to the generalisability of the facts and figures in the report till the cows come home but that would be missing the point. We all know mental health problems are real even if we don’t like, or feel unable, to talk about them. Two pieces of information from the report caught my eye. Firstly, levels of work-related mental health issues have broadly remained the same since 2006. Secondly, the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1999 requires employers to identify and mitigate physical AND psychological hazards to workers. Considering the latest Health and Safety Executive figures showed there were 12.5 million working days lost last year due to mental health issues (assuming this is not grossly under-reported), one cannot help but wonder if employers and the Government are paying sufficiently close attention to the issue. Problem is, how do you objectively measure mental health or define psychological hazards that can be realistically addressed? Ask 100 people (or 4,619 to be precise) and everyone will express their own subjective view. However, it doesn’t matter if we work in the commercial sector or public services, those who make decisions are obsessed with efficiency drives. Where does the mental health of the workforce fit into competitive edge or acceptable profitability margin calculations? How much human turnover and ‘wastage’ is to be tolerated before a change in behaviour is adopted, or are people destined to be relegated to the equivalent concepts of ‘carbon units’?! Do decision makers, no matter how lofty their position, not realise they are generating a societal pattern that they or their children will eventually inherit? The astronaut John Glenn was once asked how he felt sitting in his capsule on top of a huge rocket before take-off. He replied ‘I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of 2 million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.’ Ultimately, we’ll all be faced with health issues at some point(s) in our lives so the question is, do we really want to be helped by people who can be the best they can be, or by the ghosts of what might have been after a lifelong existence shaped by market forces. In this world of ever increasing dependency, perhaps the attitude of ‘I’m all right Jack’ will at some point have had its day but it unfortunately won’t go without a fight. The timeframe for conveying ‘Jack’ to the way of all things will be up to us.
Mental Health Foundation report
Gary Paterson PhD, Evidence and Information Manager