12/05/2021 Is our obsession with mental health harming those who really need help?
We can’t pick up a paper or watch the telly these days without a reference to our mental health popping up. This weekend the Saturday Telegraph reported that 1 million children will receive mental health support following the pandemic, and in the Sunday Times, Camilla Long’s article cited a study of 100 University College London students, each and every one of whom “self-identified as having depression or anxiety disorder, or both.’”
It seems we’re turning into a nation of victims, and some part of this must be attributed to the incessant media pointing out what we should be suffering next, what we should be seen to be doing and what we absolutely shouldn’t think or do. Before social media, and the wheel, tribes relied on the medicine-man, and apparently every village had one. When the medicine man told a villager they were going to die, they invariably did. Maybe one or two retained an independence of spirit and opinion, refused to die and instead sauntered off to start a new village somewhere else, but in the main, the verdict killed the recipient.
My old boss in Coca-Cola had strong views on the use of ‘stress’ as an excuse for missing work or doing a shoddy job. He said that stress was a perfectly normal thing and was necessary to help us function efficiently and to avoid life’s hazards. ‘Without stress,’ he said, ‘you wouldn’t have a nervous system, and so you would be dead.’ He also said that stress was only a problem when it became ‘distress’ and he recognised that a small minority of people became ill because of that, and needed help.
He was right. A small minority of people will need professional help at some point in their lifetime with their mental health, but not everybody. Constantly telling people that 50% or 30% or 70% of people will have mental health issues is likely to increases the incidences of those who believe they have mental health issues, and will lead to 100% of students at University College London self-proclaiming their perceived mental issues. Amongst that group of 100 students will be one individual who genuinely needs help, only now we can’t see him or her, because of the semantic noise from the bleating masses. That could be a big problem for that poor person who is genuinely mentally ill.
Bill Larke founded HR outsourcing company myHRdept, providing HR support to employers. In his 32-year HR career he has also worked at Board level with some of the world’s best known companies.