Can work cure mental health?

Boris Johnson suggests that hard work cures mental illness

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Does hard work help fix mental health problems?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

Boris Johnson believes that work can be "part of the cure" for depression.

The Tory MP, running in the leadership contest, says that Winston Churchill "pitchforked off" the Black Dog with his work.

However, his claims have been called "offensive" and "irresponsible".

The Claim

Boris Johnson says we can "improve mental health, save money, and boost the economy all in one go".

In his column for the Telegraph, he says that Winston Churchill coped with his "Black Dog" of depression through his work.

Johnson writes: "It was the same therapy that lifts the spirits of hundreds of millions if not billions of people around the world - and that cure is work.

"It was with work that he pitchforked off his depression; and what was true for Churchill is basically true for all of us: that to a very large extent we derive our self-esteem from what we do.

"It is often from our jobs - from being engrossed in our daily tasks - that we get that all-important sense of satisfaction."

While admitting that work "sometimes stresses us out", he describes it as "part of the cure".

Johnson argues that it is time to offer preferential tax treatment to companies that look after employees in work. He says it could keep time off work to a minimum, prevent people from becoming a cost to the NHS, and to help boost productivity.

The Counterclaim

However, the i's Poorna Bell calls Johnson's idea that hard work cures mental illness "totally absurd", earning that it is "a worrying indication of things to come".

She says that strong-arming sufferers back to their desks, rather than therapy, is "offensive".

Bell argues: "As the frontrunner for prime minister, Johnson's column is sinister, and a worrying precursor for the future of mental health in this nation, should he - and it looks very likely he will - come to power.

"And as someone who lost their husband to depression, a man who felt deep shame at the impact his illness had on his ability to work, Johnson's conflation that work can cure depression is irresponsible and distasteful."

She concludes: "The kind of leader we deserve – and more importantly, need – should live and breathe compassion for sufferers of mental health problems. Being told we simply need to get back to work is, frankly, not going to cut it."

The Facts

A survey from the mental health charity Mind found that poor mental health affects half of all employees in the UK. However, only half of those who experienced problems, such as stress and anxiety, had talked to their employer about it.

The charity also revealed that around 300,000 people lose their job each year due to a mental health problem.

A report from the OECD found that mental health problems are costing the UK more than £94 billion every year. This figure is calculated by the cost of treatment, social support costs, and losses to the economy from people who cannot work.

Nearly half of the UK costs - £42 billion - are indirect costs related to lower employment and productivity.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, people with mental health problems contributed at estimated £226 billion to the UK GDP. That's 12.1 per cent of GDP overall.

They note that this is as high as nine times the estimated cost to economic output coming from mental health problems at work.

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