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Mental health – How not to be a punk



So today’s post was supposed to be something else, but as happens things come along, things change and you need to stay with the moment.  No?

I don’t normally read HR blogs at the weekend, because a) it’s the weekend and b) it’s the weekend.  I spend my week working in business, I do HR I don’t just talk about it and……I have a life.  But for some reason that I now forget I was quickly scanning through the blogosphere when I came across this post at Punk Rock HR.

Now before I go any further, I need to be clear that I have a lot of respect for Laurie.  I don’t always agree with her (as you’ll see) but in terms of HR blogging she is without doubt the undisputed queen.  I don’t know Laurie so I can’t tell you whether I like her or don’t like her.  But I have no reason to believe that she is anything but well-intentioned.  I am sure that most of the people who read this site also read hers, although I know that most of the people who read her site don’t read mine!

In the post she wrote on Saturday, she has unintentionally strayed out of her depth.  Let’s take this one step at a time.

Throughout the post Laurie uses the word crazy.  Now I don’t know for certain, but the intimation is that we are talking about those with mental health problems.  Mental health is as broad as physical health in terms of the issues that can arise and the severity of those issues.  Lumping anyone with a mental health problem as being “crazy” is naïve, stupid and down right offensive.  Just as you wouldn’t describe someone black with the N word or someone gay with the F word.  Intentional?  I doubt it.  Clumsy?  You got it.

Next comes the career advice, for those that are “depressed, moody, addicted to drugs/alcohol, or otherwise edgy” the jobs that they are to avoid.  The list includes, nurse, teacher, cashier, receptionist and, “probably a million more”.  I’ll let moody go because as far as I can tell I don’t think it is a clinically recognized condition!  Alcohol and drug addiction are just that, they are an addiction and sure there are sometimes correlations between mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse but they are not the same thing.

But depression?  About 1 in 6 people will experience depression during their lifetime.  And that doesn’t include just feeling down, we are talking proper depression.  Look around you in the office, the street, the store.  One in six people.  The career advice to those people?  Don’t do anyone of a million jobs?  Really?  Instead, take “an overnight stock clerks job at Walmart.  You probably have insomnia anyway.”

And finally we come to the real nugget here, “crazy is constant”.  She asserts that “a job doesn’t make you crazy.  You are who you are.”  Based on what?  Where is the evidence for this?  Laurie states “A job doesn’t make you crazy.  That’s a fact.”  Now far be it for me to be picky but researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry don’t agree….but hell……what would they know?

“”Our study shows work stress appears to bring on diagnosable forms of depression and anxiety in previously healthy young workers. We found that high work pressure, high workload, working very quickly to tight inflexible deadlines doubled the risk of depression and anxiety. Clearly we can also deduce work stress is associated with mental health problems of clinical significance that have health-care and financial implications for wider society.”

Why am I taking the time to write this?  Why do I even care?  To date I haven’t had any mental health problems so it’s not a personal thing.  But I have met and worked with people through the years that have and I have probably worked with and met people through the years that have that I never knew about.  This isn’t about being politically correct, it’s about not making sweeping assertions based on nothing other than your own misguided views.  As an HR community we need to understand and debate the impact of work on health, not just wash our hands and come up with clichéd responses akin to “if you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.”

If I was to write that Arabs are lazy, that black people are naturally better at sport, that the physically disabled can’t have meaningful relationships or that women were better suited to being at home you would at best tell me I was wrong and at worst………well I shudder to think.  And of course you’d be right to do so.

I don’t think Laurie actually meant what she said.  I don’t think this was an intentionally prejudicial piece more a naïve and ill informed attempt at saying that there are people out there who don’t take responsibility for their lives.  Yep, and some have mental illness and some don’t.  And you know what?  Some people who have had or continue to have mental illness hold down some damned responsible and stressful jobs.  You just don’t know it.

PunkRockHR is viewed by a hell of a lot of people and if you are going to make statements like these dressed up as “facts” then you need to expect to be called to task.  When you hear lies and mistruths and prejudice, you need to stand up and be counted.  That, for me, is truly being punk rock.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. 01/25/2010 13:05

    Great post HRD, I agree with your analysis of Laurie’s post. As she points out it was only half-serious, but you’re right to pull her up on it. Flippant posts on this topic help nobody.

    All rather timely given this weekend’s news around pre-employment health questioning:

  2. 01/25/2010 13:42

    I’m glad my post motivated you to write!

  3. teresahrgirl permalink
    01/25/2010 13:52

    I agree that there are people who dont take responsibility for themselves and look for a scapegoat. I think that certain jobs will impact your health and some won’t, and that it is perfectly acceptable to find a career or job or whatever that allows you to get the most of what you want. If you want money, stress might be the trade off. If you want happiness, money may be your trade off. Sometimes, your physical and mental health is the trade off. Its recognizing the real trades in work that people should be aware of. Money for your service isn’t always all there is in a company/employee transaction. Let’s have an honest conversation about the impact of working on a person’s health. That is an outstanding idea. Lead the way HRD.

  4. Karen (Sayya26) permalink
    01/25/2010 14:27

    I agree with the experts. I’ve seen it happen here where the stresses of the job take a toll on you physically and mentally and in one particular case it was very tragic. People have to learn their limits and work within them. I’m all for my employees being a little selfish and taking a personal day if they need it to refocus, regroup and do what’s in the best interest of their mental and physical well being (of course you will not abuse my kindness).

    I have always put my well being first- screw the deadline.

    Going a bit broader- I think you also have a point HRD in that if you’re writing for an audience and you’re making certain assertions, when it comes to things like mental health etc you need to be really careful with what you say, how you say it and the evidence you use to claim it. These kinds of topics are not very open to interpretation and opinion- there’s science behind it that needs to be taken into account.

  5. 01/25/2010 16:19

    I am going to change my name to Mongo

  6. Corporate Daycare permalink
    01/25/2010 18:38

    HRD – I read Laurie’s post over the weekend too and have to say I had a somewhat different reaction than yours.

    If I’m going in search of expert opinion and facts on mental health issues – PunkRockHR is not going to be my first stop (I’m sure Laurie will understand this).

    I do respect your post, as well as your response to hers, and the fact that you took one big step back to see the broader implications of what was being said.

    Kudos for speaking your mind and calling for further discussion within our community. Mental health issues and all its nuances need to be recognized and respected.

  7. 01/25/2010 18:55

    I didn’t think that the PHR post was that serious; “crazy” is used in everyday language to imply various things from attitude to annoyance to serious mental health issues. Your analogy with the N or F words does not compute: both are unambiguously derogatory words derived specifically to insult certain grps of people.

    Love that your blog often uses one of my favourite English words, “Bollocks”! 🙂

  8. Sean Trainor permalink
    01/25/2010 23:38

    You guys are crazy, you crack me up. You should all take Laurie’s advise and stay out of HR? (and no doubt the other million unlisted roles) What career would you advise Laurie? Blogging?

  9. 01/26/2010 14:55

    @robmoss – Thanks Rob, yes I saw that news and I have to say I agree. I think most of us who have thought it through probably do…..

    @Laurie – I’m glad my post motivated you to think 🙂

    @teresahrgirl – Ok, its a deal, I’ll do a longer post on it in the coming weeks.

    @Karen – one of the down sides of the net is the ability to confuse fact with opinion. I am all for freedom of expression as long as it is clear that it is a view and not dressed up as facts.

    @fernandomando – It suits you.

    @Corporate Daycare – I agree, but if I were one of the many job seekers that Laurie says are her predominant audience and I had or did suffer from a mental illness, would I take this as the view of the HR community? Not neccessarily, but possibly.

    @Geekette – Thanks for the comment and welcome! I guess a lot of white people didn’t think the N word was offensive for a very long time. Of course crazy has many other meanings, but my point is that using it to refer to people with mental health problems is potentially offensive. Ask the charities involved in mental health for their veiws and I’m pretty certain you will find the word provokes strong emotion. That said….I could be talking bollocks!

    @Sean – Welcome and thanks for taking the time to comment. I always thought water cress farming sounded like a good career. You get the farmy outdoors bit, but without the muck and without having to get up at the crack of dawn to feed the animals!

  10. 01/27/2010 19:14

    ahh, after reading those comments on Laurie’s post, I am furious! When will people understand that calling those who are psychologically ill “crazy” is as bad as calling an Asian person “Chink”? Your posts and BTZAT were right on!!

  11. 01/27/2010 19:21

    @thuy – I hear you. I hear you loud and clear.

  12. NZHRGuy permalink
    01/28/2010 07:42

    Spot on again my friend. Not overly impressed with Laurie’s responses but I guess this is one topic that greatly divides opinion for some reason. Keep on keeping on.

  13. 01/28/2010 08:26

    @NZHRGuy – Thanks, it sure does divide opinion and I guess all I am suggesting is that we have the debate. I don’t think anyone has any bad intentions, its just how they are perceived.


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