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PlaNet News & Views

Posted on 24-7-06

All Worked Up
July 24, 2006
Watch PTV, Monday 24 July, 9.30pm, Triangle TV ... Self Talk, a Jungian
perspective on dealing with modern life.
You're irritable, restless and so chronically stressed that you don't know
what relaxation means, both at work and home and everywhere else, but
particularly at work you fidget in meetings, gaze out the window, lose
track of appointments and jump at the sound of, anything electronic. Is
there something wrong with you? Or is there something wrong with modern
work `culture'?
Fear is the first symptom of stress and moderns are so stressed that fear
is the foundation of the emotional tone in the 21sr century. If work
doesn't get you the govenment or the terrorists will. In short many
moderns live in a perpetual state of low-level panic, guilt and fear, with
difficulty in organising, setting priorities and managing time. "It's a
response to the hyperkinetic environment in which we live," says UK
psychiatrist Dr Edward Hallowell. "But it has become epidemic in today's
Chronic stress joins a growing list of workplace health problems that now
include anxiety, burnout, bullying, workaholism, alcoholism and
post-traumatic stress. With one in five managers at risk of depression, 12
per cent of them having a major depression. New research shows how mental
health problems have become one of today's biggest occupational health
risks. In six years, the number of mental illness problems being seen by
occupational physicians has trebled in Britain, while physical causes have
stayed at about the same rate. The physicians are seeing three times as
many new cases of people with stress and mental illness as they were six
years ago - 36.7 per cent compared with 11.4 per cent.
The research, at Manchester University and Imperial College is based on
reports from more than 500 occupational physicians, the doctors who
examine sick employees, and shows that rates for men were 25 per cent
higher than those for women, and that six out of 10 diagnoses were for
anxiety or depression. The research also gives a unique insight into who
is most at risk from which disorders. It shows that around one in four
bouts of mental ill-health are blamed on the job itself, with work
overload the main cause.
The bottom line for people is not the bottom line, its a feeling of
self-control. The psyche cannot function if it feels out of control.
Changes at work, including new responsibilities and new technology,
accounted for one in 10 cases, while problems in relationships with
colleagues were to blame for almost one in five health problems among
women employees. The results also show that illness rates, especially
anxiety and depression, were higher than expected among managers,
secretaries and clerks, and people employed in the financial industry and
in education. Alcohol problems were high among those working in sales,
while post-traumatic stress was higher among machine operators and train
Not all sick workers are seen by occupational physicians, and the majority
are treated by GPs. The researchers say doctors needed to be trained to
spot early signs of problems at work if mental ill-health is to be
reduced. They also say that greater expertise is needed to improve the
workplace environment, including reviewing job demands, and improving
working relations and organisational change. Dr Hallowell, who runs the
Centre for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Massachusetts, and who says
that new technologies such as email, voicemail and instant messaging is
contributing to the problem, believes ADT can be controlled by making
changes in the working environment.
Professor Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health
at Lancaster University, says the problem of mental ill-health in the
workplace is reaching epidemic proportions. "We all know there is a big
problem going on. It is the new disease - the black plague of the 21st
century." He says there are a number of causes: "Change, and change over
which people feel they have no control, is a significant cause of stress.
Twenty years ago, we had a nine-to-five culture with an hour off for
lunch. We did not have the new technology that overloads us. Jobs were
also relatively secure, while now they are intrinsically insecure. "We
know that if you consistently work long hours - and that is more than 41 a
week, not 50 - you will get ill. The way in which people are managed
causes problems, too. We manage people more by targets and performance
indicators, more by fault-finding than by praise and reward. Recognising
that there is a problem is the first step."