The dialectical relationship between work and mental health: part 3

This article is part three in a series of articles by Polly Peek. The first two parts can be read in the January and February issues of The Spark or online here (part 1) and here (part 2)

The low employment rates for people experiencing mental ill health can be attributed to a combination of individual discrimination and, more predominantly, systemic barriers. Research into occupational perspectives on recovery by Mary Kelly, Scott Lamont and Scott Brunero, highlighted the experiences of a mental health consumer who was forced to take early retirement by his employers upon disclosure that he was seeing a psychiatrist. This kind of anecdotal evidence may give perspective to the question of whether mental ill health leads to unemployment, or loss of employment erodes resiliency with the suggestion that where illness leads to unemployment, it may, in many cases not result exclusively from symptom recovery but external issues such as inter-personal discrimination.
I would argue that in these situations individual discrimination is a result of a wider systemic issue that is the bottom-line focus of businesses. This priority is evident in research such as that produced by London School of Economics and Political Science researchers which outlines the 10 billion pound annual loss to businesses as a result of “failure of employees to fulfil their contractual hours” while absent from work sick. Extending on this, the authors cite the increasing presence of mental illness in the global burden of disease as a reason for some people being absent from work up to three times as often as their colleagues. While similar finding have featured in New Zealand research such as that undertaken by Southern Cross, and cited in the NZ Herald in 2009, more attention to the abilities of employers to reduce the impact of mental illness on workplace performance could improve employment opportunities for people with mental illness in the absence of a larger societal change away from prioritising profit. Continue reading “The dialectical relationship between work and mental health: part 3”

The Dialectical Relationship between Work and Mental Health: part 2

This article is the second of a four-part series by Polly Peek. The first part can be read online here or in the December-January issue of The Spark. ‘Consumer’ in this article refers to a person who currently or has previously used psychiatric services. ‘Bourdieuian’ refers to the theories developed by French Sociologist Piere Bourdieu and  ‘taangatawhaiora’ is a Te Reo term that translates to ‘person seeking well-being’.
The instrumental value of employment is that it creates opportunities for mental health consumers to access additional resources to improve their health and wellbeing such as financial resources and supportive social networks. From a Bourdieuian perspective, therefore, employment allows people with experience of mental illness to beneficially increase their social and economic capital. The benefit of these resources has been expanded on in research exploring resilience factors for mental health. One example of this is a 2002 Ministry of Health publication which cites economic security as being crucial for well-being as well as the availability of opportunities. Because of the lower-than-minimum-wage rate of benefits in New Zealand society and difficulties attaining work without experience, the mental health benefits that come from economic security and accessibility of opportunities is likely to disproportionately benefit those in paid work in comparison to the unemployed.
Continue reading “The Dialectical Relationship between Work and Mental Health: part 2”

The Dialectical Relationship between Work and Mental Health (Part 1)

is work good for mental health? This article is the first in series by Polly Peek addressing the issues of work and mental health from Marxist perspective. For more information on the concept of dialectics see this article the term ‘mental health community’ refers to those people experiencing mental illness or distress, and ‘consumer’ refers to those using or having previously used psychiatric services.. The role work plays in the mental health of people experiencing mental illness is complex, with research on the topic appearing somewhat contradictory on the surface, the most prominent contradiction being whether work is overall beneficial or detrimental to well-being and recovery. Research suggests that employment, or engagement in meaningful contribution is a “critical component of the pathway to recovery” (Mental Health Commission, 2001, cited in Duncan and Peterson, 2007) and that the most significant employment challenge for people experiencing mental illness is overcoming structural barriers to attaining work. At the same time, other studies indicate that the correlation between work and wellness is not so clear-cut, and that the kinds of jobs most accessible to the mental health community are also those with the highest likelihood of decreasingwell-being and obstructing recovery. In approaching this conflict through a dialectical analysis, the question of interplay between work and mental health moves from one of ‘is work more beneficial or detrimental to recovery and wellbeing’ to one of ‘how can the contradictions of employment’s simultaneous facilitation and eroding of wellness be resolved’. Continue reading “The Dialectical Relationship between Work and Mental Health (Part 1)”