After hearing about the terrible tragedy last Tuesday, when a young pilot flew his plane and the 150 on board into the side of a mountain in France, I wondered why this man, who seemed to have everything going for him – youth, a good job, a home, his own flat – would do such a thing.
We are hearing today that he had taken six months off in 2009 during his training, attributed to stress. If this is true, why were his employers not monitoring him? If a person is susceptible to stress of that severity, necessitating a six month rest at the age of 21, should he not have received mental health checks on a regular basis? Did this happen?
Stress breakdowns are serious. In this country we know from the following statistics from the Health and Safety Executive:
1. The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013/14 was 487 000 cases (39%) out of a total of 1 241 000 cases for all work-related illnesses.
2. The number of new cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2013/14 was 244 000.
3. The rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety, for both total and new cases, have remained broadly flat for more than a decade.
4. The total number of working days lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety was 11.3 million in 2013/14, an average of 23 days per case of stress, depression or anxiety.
The industries that reported the highest prevalence rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety (three-year average) were human health and social work, education and public administration and defence.
The occupations that reported the highest prevalence rates of work-related stress, depression or anxiety (three-year average) were health professionals (in particular nurses), teaching and educational professionals, and health and social care associate professionals (in particular welfare and housing associate professionals). The complete document can be found at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/
Here is another report I discovered:
The sources of occupational and domestic stress, together with life events and coping strategies, were assessed in terms of their influence on job dissatisfaction, mental health, and performance among a group of 442 commercial airline pilots. It was found that self-perceived poor performance was associated with job-related factors such as fatigue and anxiety about required courses, performance checks, and insufficient flying time, particularly among older pilots. Job dissatisfaction was predicted by lack of career opportunities, poor organizational climate and morale, and lack of autonomy at work, together with some domestic stressors (e.g., family health). Overall mental ill-health was found to be associated with lack of autonomy at work, fatigue, and flying patterns, together with an inability to relax and a lack of social support.
J Occup Med. 1985 Aug;27(8):570-6. Occupational and psychosocial stress among commercial aviation pilots.
Cooper CL, Sloan S.
I have had personal experience of stress causing illness when a member of my family was very unwell with depression after two breakdowns, all associated with stress at work. The mental health services in the UK are soon to be subjected to further financial cuts, making this form of disease less important in the public eye than physical illness. Mental illness of any sort is serious and services to treat or research it, must be properly funded.If not, I think we need to understand that the outcomes can be catastrophic.
The recent ‘fracas’ over at the BBC, when presenter Jeremy Clarkson allegedly hit a producer because the food he’d asked for after a day’s filming was not provided, is a case in point. From my perspective, Clarkson, the talented presenter of the TV programme Top Gear, appears to be suffering from severe work related stress, if not complete burn out.
Social media and every other kind of media screams out the message that we should all be pursuing HAPPINESS as if our lives depended on it. (the irony is not missed by me!) We should all expect to be successful. We should all aspire to dizzy heights of fame. We should never be lonely, old, fat, poor, homeless, unemployed, though we know that thousands of people are. When stories appear in the media about people on benefits, people who are not ‘making it’ I always feel there is an undercurrent of judgement, a sense that it ‘your’ fault, that the underclass is alive and well and crawling around in the gutter and unless they can pull themselves out of it, they can stay there.
The imbalance in our society is destroying us and has been for years, ever since Margaret Thatcher made that fatuous remark: ‘There is no such thing as society…’
We need to stop sending out this ghastly message that there is only one way to live and that is through the acquisition of status and money and damn anyone who dares to deny this mantra. We need our elected leaders to focus on creating a society that cares for all and puts humanitarianism first.