NOT ANOTHER MENTAL ILLNESS
All I needed to see was the headline. A November 12, 2004, piece in the Washington Times read "Warning: Work may be stressful to your health." I knew right away we were in for it -- again. Yet another mental illness was about to grace the ever-increasing listings in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of the psychiatric profession.
This time the culprit was "work."
According to the article by Al Webb, the British have officially included "work" in its arsenal of diseases, with "a tough new code of standards" to deal with the problem. The piece cited everything from "a stressed-out mathematics teacher" to a correctional staffer in a prison as "eligible," apparently, for compensation in the United Kingdom.
Can America be far behind?
Not understanding ones "roles and responsibilities" on the job ranks right up there with breathing toxic fumes when it comes to the burgeoning "stress epidemic" victimizing thousands of British workers -- and, no doubt, American employees, too, as soon as the American Psychological Association recognizes the compensation potential. For example, Webb reports that the math teacher, Alan Barber, got $135,000 after Britain's House of Lords reviewed the gentleman's litany of on-the-job complaints, which included "overwork and 'bullying' by … superiors."
American attorneys and lawmakers surely must be salivating.
That work of every sort was much more harrowing pre-20th century doesn't appear to be a factor. The Times reporter wrote that work-related stress has changed, as British citizens have become more "Americanized," according to Cary Cooper, professor of psychology (what else?) at U.K.'s University of Lancaster. The British government has responded with an apparently mandatory "framework to help employers and employees tackle stress at work."
This, of course, will translate to more paperwork, thus driving up the cost of doing business. Fewer employees will likely be hired to perform some tasks in order to save money -- contributing to, guess what? Even more employee stress. So, what's new about government causing the opposite of whatever it was that it originally intended to accomplish with its funding?
Unfortunately, this time the bill will be two-fold for employers: once to compensate complainants, and again for psychiatrists to hold seminars, draft guidelines, and provide therapy to stressed workers. And we won't even factor in how much company time will be wasted on filings, attorneys, and, of course, stress workshops for employees.
What is interesting about all this is that many people actually thrive on stress. Stress, in the context it is being applied here, provides the necessary motivation to accomplish things, and accomplishment is fulfilling, often irrespective of the size of one's paycheck.
Now, of course, if workers are inhaling toxic fumes, that comes under the heading of hazardous, which is another topic entirely. If unions, for example, were advising their members to strike over unsafe and perilous conditions, few would object. But when workers strike over salaries and stress, they lose their credibility with the public -- one reason, perhaps, why so many jobs have gone overseas.
Yes, some functions are made unnecessarily stressful. Take the math teacher in Britain. Like the United States, British schools are teetering on the brink of being out-of-control; although if there were a contest, the US would beat the U.K. hands down in the chaos department. The leftists on both continents, however, have ensured that teachers can achieve little; discipline and actual teaching having taken a back seat to psychological calisthenics, social adjustment games, fads, and sports. Educators aren't taught methodologies that actually work; so they have no means of diagnosing or remediating the learning needs of their young charges. Categories like "special education" are misnomers, since nothing "special" occurs at all. In fact, if anyone is "eligible" for compensation, it should be the pupils, who have no option but to sit in a peer-pressure-cooker day after day, while their real educational requirements go un-met.
But teachers can quit, after all. As can the employees of most other professions. Were there not enough teachers to go around, the situation would quickly change. But teachers suffer the same inertia as other workers. And, unfortunately, their so-called "professional associations" (read: unions) incite them to fight, fight, fight instead of quit, quit, quit -- in order to keep on getting educators' annual dues.
When I was working for the federal government, there were programs in place for the "stressed," whether that stress came from home, from work, or even from holidays. Every December, in fact, a notice was posted and a brochure distributed advising us of the possibility -- make that, the probability -- that holidays would not to live up to expectations and that employees would be depressed. An assistance program, paid for with your tax dollars, was always available to provide talk therapy or referral services during this "difficult" period.
No doubt some people are blue around the holidays, for a variety of reasons, such as the death of a loved one or the contrariness of a relative one cannot avoid. But these are issues more appropriately raised with one's minister or rabbi, not one's doctor. Of course, ministers and rabbis these days are busy with issues like gay marriage and lesbian priestesses, which directly involves maybe one percent of their flock, so they have little time for problems that perplex ordinary parishioners.
In any case, most psychiatrists and psychologists are not medical doctors. The emphasis on stress is becoming not just morbid, it is "morphing" into an industry. People are encouraged to shell out big bucks for a variety of psychotropic medications, among other expenses. Worse, they are often labeled with mental "illnesses" codified in the DSM, which are duly reported to their insurance companies, and thus go into their permanent, computerized records.
So, expect to hear a lot more about the stress-free workplace. Expect to see more workers on medication, for better or, more likely, for worse. Expect more employees to suddenly "go berserk" on their medications. Expect more jobs to be dissolved. Expect more psychological surveys in the job application process, and more lawsuits, since psychological assessments are entirely subjective.
And if all this stresses you out, maybe you
can just stay home and read something calming, like Winnie the Pooh.
Oh, wait: I forgot. Piglet has been declared mentally ill, too.
Beverly Eakman is an Educator, 9 years: 1968-1974, 1979-1981. Specialties: English and Literature.
Science Editor, Technical Writer and Editor-in-Chief of official newspaper, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1974-1979. Technical piece, "David, the Bubble Baby," picked up by popular press and turned into a movie starring John Travolta.
Chief speech writer, National Council for Better Education, 1984-1986; for the late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Commission on the Bicentennial of the US Constitution, 1986-1987; for the Voice of America Director, 1987-1989; and for U.S. Department of Justice, Gerald R. Regier, 1991-1993.
Author: 3 books on education and data-trafficking
since 1991, including the internationally acclaimed Cloning
of the American Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education. Executive
Director, National Education Consortium. Website: BeverlyE.com
Unfortunately, this time the bill will be two-fold for employers: once to compensate complainants, and again for psychiatrists to hold seminars, draft guidelines, and provide therapy to stressed workers.