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Work Improves Mental Health Scribbles Boris Johnson

July 17, 2019

Same Difference pastes this only to stop our readers having to register for the Telegraph.

It is one of the most fascinating and consoling features of the life of Sir Winston Churchill that, for all his giant strengths of courage and resilience, he was also prone to bouts of depression. He called it his “Black Dog”. And there was only one means by which he really succeeded in chasing that Black Dog away. It certainly wasn’t alcohol. It was the same therapy that lifts the spirits of hundreds of millions if not billions of people around the world – and that cure is work.

In Churchill’s case that meant the almost superhuman production of books, speeches and articles. He wrote more words than Dickens and Shakespeare combined – and that is before we have even considered his epic memoranda, or the industriousness of his oil painting.

It was with work that he pitchforked off his depression; and what was true for Churchill is basically true for all of us: that to a very large extent we derive our self-esteem from what we do. It is often from our jobs – from being engrossed in our daily tasks – that we get that all-important sense of satisfaction.

Yes, it is work that sometimes stresses us out, and work that causes anxiety; but it is also work that can absorb us and take us out of ourselves until the clouds have gone.

If work is the cause, it is also part of the cure. So if anyone faces prolonged stress or depression, or mental illness of any kind, it will in general be far better if they can get the treatment they need without necessarily being forced to leave their job, and thereby giving up not only their livelihood but also that vital psychological support.

This country is making huge progress in tackling and demystifying the problems of mental health. Taboos are being lifted. Discussions are being held with a frankness that would not have been possible 20 or 30 years ago.

We have far greater understanding and confidence about what can be done. We know that people can be helped, that therapies exist, and that they are effective, that seemingly invincible darkness can be dispelled and that people’s lives can be turned around. We grasp the crucial importance of sport, and physical exercise.

If you want some good news – and you know I believe in the good news – the rate of male suicide is now down to 15 per 100,000, the lowest since records began in 1981. Female suicides are down to about five per 100,000. Better mental health care is saving lives; but every suicide is still a tragedy. No statistic is any consolation to the bereaved, and we have far more to do.

It is only now, as we gain in maturity and understanding of the issue, that we can see the full economic and social cost of the psychological burdens carried by the workforce – where one adult in six will suffer from some kind of mental ill health in the next week. Of all the working days lost to ill health in this country, 57 per cent are due to stress, depression or anxiety.

According to a recent study conducted by the John Lewis Partnership, mental-health problems and other stress-related conditions are combining to reduce national productivity by £84 billion per year. When people are obliged through stress to leave their jobs, the burden falls on our hard-pressed mental health services; to say nothing of the cost in welfare payments, and the destabilising effect that unemployment has on families.

And as soon as someone leaves their job, and forsakes that self-defining sense of purpose, they are at risk of entering a downward spiral of depression.

Then there are the many employees who stay in their jobs, but who are prevented by stress from performing to the best of their abilities – the so-called “presenteeism” phenomenon.

We only heard about this ‘column’ when we came across this Tweet online:

Thank you Poorna Bell for phrasing the thoughts of so many so well!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Liz Douglas permalink
    July 18, 2019 9:53 am

    As Same Difference well knows this ‘Work is the cure for illness isn’t a new thing Many have spoken out for many years Here’s one blogger @Skwawkbox 2013

    Off topic or is it … How Britain’s welfare state has been taken over by shadowy tech consultants
    Political choices made in the rush to ‘digital by default’ benefits, such as universal credit, have eroded people’s rights

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