JOHN HUMPHRYS: A four-day work week to boost mental health? That’s just idiotic 

The wonderful thing about language is how it is always changing. That’s the scary thing about it too.

Sometimes the changes are completely innocent. If you saw the word “Twitter” a few decades ago, you would have photographed a cute little bird that looked happy. Then he was kidnapped by some clever Silicon Valley dignitaries, and now he might be a happy “tweet” – or, more likely, pretty wild.

Either way, this is a useful illustration of how innocuous words are captured, sometimes for commercial gain, but more often by advocates for a particular cause.

Jay is a good example of this.

It’s been over fifty years since gay men started using it to describe themselves. It is now rare to hear the word “gay” being used in common language. Jay took over. It has been a powerful weapon in the battle for gender equality. Our society is more correct for that.

But let’s try another phrase that has been steadily creeping into common usage—one that was never used when I was young: mental health.

Just go back a few decades and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone using it outside the closed circuit of medical professionals.

And when it was almost whispered. As if there was something shameful about suffering from a mental health problem.

Now it is everywhere. Even school children use it. Or should I say, especially school children.

John Humphreys: “Sometimes changes in language are completely innocent. If you saw the word ‘twitter’ a few decades ago, you would have pictured a cute little bird that looked happy. Then it was kidnapped by some clever Silicon Valley dignitaries, and now a happy ‘tweet’ might be – or, Probably too wild.

It is impossible to read or hear any interview with teenagers now about the effect of the lockdown on them – whether they are at school or university – without the interviewer or the teenager referring to the effect on their “mental health”.

why not? Wasn’t it always ridiculous to lower our voices and look in the opposite direction? Like something to be ashamed of.

Surely we should welcome the way everyone is now talking about their “mental health”. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone.

From Prince William, who has just welcomed an unprecedented agreement by the emergency services to adopt a package of “mental health support” for its employees, to the head of one of Britain’s largest digital banks.

It’s Mark Mullen, CEO of Atom Bank, and he just announced that his employees will be moving four days a week to improve their “mental and physical health”.

This is more than just baffling. It shows why we are really worried about our new obsession with mental health.

Are we really saying that working out five days a week is harmful?

Speaking of myself, I hate working in a bank five days a year, let alone five days a week, and that too because I would be useless at it. In fact, I absolutely do not like working in offices.

But I was lucky. The eccentric work style of a freelance journalist has always suited me well.

But we all know people who totally enjoy the rhythm of the five-day week. It gives them structure for their lives. They look forward to the weekend but enjoy the company of their colleagues when they are at work too.

What happens to them in this brave new world when their superiors tell them they’re going to spend an extra day at home whether they like it or not? What if they found even a four-day week to be too much for their mental health? Give them three days maybe? Where do you end?

And anyway, what exactly do we mean when we talk about mental health?

Surely we should welcome the way everyone is now talking about

Surely we should welcome the way everyone is now talking about their “mental health”. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. From Prince William, who has just welcomed an unprecedented agreement by the emergency services to adopt a package of ‘mental health support’ for its employees, to the head of one of Britain’s largest digital banks (Pictured: Prince William speaking at the Royal Institution’s Emergency Mental Health Services Symposium in London 25 November 2021)

This country has a questionable claim to fame when it comes to mental illness.

We were the first to open in Europe the so-called “sanatoriums for the insane”. That was 700 years ago.

It wasn’t until the ’80s that we finally got to close it. It took a long time to abandon the inhumane practice of dividing people into two classes: the lunatics and the rest of us.

Fortunately, we now realize that mental illness is the source of unhappiness or even severe suffering. And we’re starting to apply a little more distinction in our approach to it.

We now distinguish between mental illnesses that have little in common with each other, whether it be depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder.

However, we have been slow to shake off the idea that there are two categories of people: those who suffer from mental illness and those who are not.

We still have to come to terms with the idea that we are all susceptible to mental illness in one form or another. Medical science has shown that our bodies and minds interact with each other. We know that there is something called psychosomatic illness. It may manifest itself in a physical form but its causes are often mental.

We also realize that just as the body can withstand so much physical stress just before it gives off something—the heart, lungs, and extremities—so our brains can handle a lot of psychological stress.

And we know that if we experience a lot of anxiety or stress from overwork, we may suffer what the previous generation described as a “mental breakdown.”

JOHN HUMPRHYS:

JOHN HUMPRHYS: ‘We realize that just as the body can withstand a lot of physical stress before something causes something — the heart, the lungs, our limbs — so our minds can only handle so much mental stress. And we know that if we experience a lot of anxiety or stress from overwork, we may suffer what a previous generation recognized as a mental breakdown.

It happened to my parents once when there was not enough money to put decent food on the table, but no one talked about it. We looked the other way. He improved.

But is it really true that a little bit of work inevitably leads to better mental health? Is a four-day week really better than five?

I’m afraid there is something more serious going on here. In fact, there are powerful vested interests that exploit the idea that we should all worry endlessly about our mental health.

I’m not talking about the growing army of therapists and counselors. Some have had little or no training, but many vulnerable people need little more than a sympathetic ear. An experienced and trained therapist can often help those in desperate need.

We need to worry about the big pharmaceutical companies.

Not all of that, of course. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to companies like AstraZeneca. Without their vaccines, we’d still be counting the daily Covid death toll in the thousands.

These are the ones who sell drugs knowing full well the effect they will have on their victims and not caring about any amount of colossal harm they can cause.

It is the medicalization of a condition that may or may not be clinically justified. It creates a marketplace for treating “mental health issues” in order to make money – huge sums of money.

We may only be well aware of the opioid crisis in the United States but we should take it seriously.

In the 1990s, American pharmaceutical companies assured the medical world that opioid painkillers were not addictive. They were lying.

JOHN HUMPRHYS: 'Is it really true that a little bit of work inevitably leads to better mental health?'  Is a four-day week really better than five?  I fear there is something more sinister going on here.  In fact, there are powerful vested interests that exploit the idea that we should all worry endlessly about our mental health.

JOHN HUMPRHYS: ‘Is it really true that a little bit of work inevitably leads to better mental health?’ Is a four-day week really better than five? I’m afraid there is something more serious going on here. In fact, there are powerful vested interests that exploit the idea that we should all worry endlessly about our mental health.

In 2019, 70,000 people died from overdoses. 10 million people are captivated by the use of prescription opioid medications.

Such drugs create dependency. Anyone who doubts this should read the persuasive column that Sarah Fine wrote in these pages only a few days ago.

It was responding to an announcement by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence by issuing new guidelines for doctors who were considering prescribing antidepressants.

They should consider alternative options like therapy, meditation or exercise first, Ness said.

Sarah is one of many who have been prescribed antidepressants. I’ve taken them for nearly ten years – and they worked. But when she realized that she had become dependent on them, she tried to break free. That was when the real nightmare began.

And her infernal experience should be noted by all those who trot on this strangely overexpression of “mental health issues”.

They should also note the staggering increase in the number of people being prescribed antidepressants in England today. More than seven million. Even more shocking, a quarter of a million of them are children between the ages of 5 and 16.

Can life really be much more difficult for a child today than it was a generation ago? So hard that the only answer is to embark on the nightmare journey that could lead to drug dependence?

Certainly the question answers itself.

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