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.