Magazine article The Spectator

The Anxiety Industry

Magazine article The Spectator

The Anxiety Industry

Article excerpt

'Stress management' seems to be perpetually on the rise

We seem to be in the grip of a terrible stress epidemic. According to a new study by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, a professional body for managers in human resources, two fifths of all organisations stated that stress-related absence has increased. It even causes terrorism, apparently: the mother of Paris suicide bomber Ibrahim Abdeslam said she believes her son might have blown himself up because of stress.

The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in the past year was 440,000, according to the Health and Safety Executive, up from 428,000 cases two years earlier. So extensive is this plague that, in the HSE's view, stress accounts for no less than a third of all work-related ill-health cases. In practice, that translates into the loss of 10 million working days last year.

The problem seems particularly acute in the public sector. A Guardian survey of staff in the public and voluntary sectors, carried out this June by the Guardian , revealed that '93 per cent of respondents say they are stressed either all, some or a lot of the time'. And a study by the NASUWT union in March this year found 83 per cent of teachers had reported workplace stress. The Public and Commercial Services Union has claimed two-thirds of civil servants have 'suffered from ill health as result of stress at work'.

The spread of this epidemic has been accompanied by the creation of a vast stress-management industry, made up of counsellors, therapists, trainers, health workers and life coaches, many of whose activities are entirely unregulated. At the last count, there were some 15 million websites offering such services. Among the methods used supposedly to tackle stress are transcendental meditation, flotation tanks, breathing techniques, massage sessions, mindfulness teaching, Zumba classes, dough balls, and 'mood cards'.

Some interventions are medical. NHS statistics show that last year, 53 million packs of antidepressants were dispensed. The use of heavy-duty drugs like mirtazapine, diazepam, venlafaxine and sertraline all increased, the last by a staggering 29 per cent.

The paradox is that the more our society dishes out the antidepressants and dough balls, the less able we seem to be at handling stress. …

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