“Without mental health there can be no true physical health“… WHO Director-General Dr Brock Chisholm, 1954
In Nov the UK govt released their #ThrivingAtWork report, showing 330 thousand people lose their jobs per year due to chronic mental health problems – at an annual cost of nearly one billion pounds. Depression, and alcohol abuse are also linked to anxiety about losing one’s job. It’s recommended that workplaces:
• Produce, implement and communicate a
mental health at work plan;
• Encourage open conversations about
mental health and the support available
when employees are struggling;
• Provide employees with good working
conditions and ensure they have a healthy
work life balance and opportunities for
• Routinely monitor employee mental health
‘Monitoring’ health might seem intrusive. Yet checks such as Blood Pressure, blood sugar, or BMI haven’t resulted in career risk – rather, they’re investments in staff longevity. So this is all good*, and indeed focuses on the neglected aspect of the bio(psycho)-social model of mental wellbeing, ie the environment we find ourselves in. This redresses medicine’s emphasis upon biological causes in illness, with resultant treatment by frequently harmful medications. Instead, a regulatory stick comes down on unsafe employers, using Health & Safety Executive inspectors to review work pressure as is done for OH&S risk. Victoria’s WorkSafe will launch an informational resource program in 2018 also. Advocates such as BeyondBlue have made great inroads to removing the stigma that surrounds mental illness and its exacerbation by a toxic workplace, but are these campaigns really helpful to sufferer’s wellbeing? What if it’s better to cut your losses and quit, than to Soldier On? Why are you even in this busyness?
Dr Stephen Carbone from Beyond Blue commented on Australia’s rise to world #2 in antidepressant usage with spin: “You could argue we are ahead of the game in raising public awareness and the destigmatisation of the conditions“. No worries, eh mate? The simple reality is, that the pharmaceutical industry is at hand, and seeking professional support will result in script for a medication. Just as cold & flu symptoms can be alleviated sufficiently to work, and infect your colleagues, anxiolytic eg Valium and anti-depressant usage is rampant. Wikipedia explains that until ’93, a distinction was made: “Endogenous depression was initially considered valuable as a means of diagnostic differentiation with reactive depression. While the latter’s onset could be attributed to adverse life events and treated with talk therapy, the former would indicate treatment with antidepressants”. But then the American Psychological Assn showed that meds are equally applicable in both situations, and this is what’s taught today (according to Prof Jayashri Kalkarni of Monash Alfred Psychiatry research centre).
Surprisingly, our over-consumption of antidepressants didn’t ring any alarms at the Drug Utilisation Sub-Committee of the PBS, which reviews anomalies in projected usage against actual prescriptions. The last ABS data is from 2011, showing 11% of Australians filled at least one script for a mental health medication. Mental health meds trends since are difficult to discern from the annual summaries, owing to DHS changes, but suffice to say that antidepressant usage grew 11% from 2013-15 (the last couple of reports available for N06A).
In psychotherapist James Davies book ‘The Importance of Suffering’ he writes: “emotional discontent… is not always something to be anaesthetised, feared or avoided, but is an experience which, if understood and managed correctly, can facilitate the important process of positive individual and/or social transformation.” That positive aspect is the hope for redemption, to quote Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘In Darkness’: “If a way to the better there be, it first exacts a full look at the worst“. Over a hundred years later the idea is salient but an industry has grown, like ivy over a garden, to hide our hurt. Somewhat oxymoronically, the August ’17 article ‘Why feeling pain is key to our happiness’ endorses medicated blocking of feeling thus:
ERIC VAN BEMMEL (University of Melbourne podcaster): “…antidepressants, things that would dull us from physical and emotional pain. So is that consumerism? We’re taking advantage of the technology that brings these drugs.”
BROCK BASTIAN (UniMelb Psychologist): “When you come to painkillers I think that’s a slightly different thing. When things are there that can take the pain away, I mean we’re going to more often than not take the advantage of those. I certainly do for one, you’d be silly not to.”
Block it out, fill it in. Davies went on to claim that intolerance of suffering creates the climate for abuse of antidepressants, addictive consumption, and frantic activity. Unsustainable spend increases our dependence upon work, a spiral to despair. Attitudes that cause working when it’s unhealthy, or medicating instead of adapting, or avoidance of solitude arise out of fearfulness of looking within. In ‘The Benefits of Boredom’ a psychologist points to the benefits for children’s creativity of leaving empty timeslots. Overstimulated kids are on their way to being ‘too busy’ adults, and encouraging a wandering mind is the first step towards a calm, still mind.
Buddhists see pain as just one manifestation of suffering. The steps of approaching, rather than avoiding, unpleasant feelings provided by mindfulness are being adopted by increasing numbers of health professionals. Looking inwards and understanding self will result in a greater sense of connectedness to others, where the support of community can be beneficial in many cultures. Less so in the modern, manic societies, where getting pilled is a worrying norm. A psychiatrist reviewer of Davies’ book Cracked finds it emotive in style, but is impressed by the exploring of imperialism – harm done by exporting notions of distress as a biological malfunction into societies that had been functioning healthily.
The year is ending. Frenetic activity to finish up, followed by the glitz of Christmas will leave many aching for the summer break. Carole’s and my favourite spot is on a camping chair in the pools of the Yarra at Warrandyte. The question is, how to find this calm year-long?