My business head hurts

The ‘depression stigma’ is costing British business billions.

As the UK economy slips back into recession, it’s almost possible to hear the collective sigh of the country, fearing for their jobs, their futures. It is of course a technicality. Not a lot has changed since yesterday but it’s a great media story and one that will ripple across the UK business community, questioning its fragile confidence and prodding its stomach to see if it is made of stern stuff that can cope with bad news.

Of course no entrepreneur or business leader worth their salt would cave under the pressure. Unthinkable. But what about the staff? What about the people that make the business tick, that sell and create and organise? What if they cannot cope? What if they have a sea of problems at home and this news, leading to a fear of redundancy, is the final straw? Do they need to just buck-up and carry on?

Depression costs British businesses £9bn a year in potential lost earnings (All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics – Dec 2011) yet there is a stigma attached to depression and stress that is seemingly hard to shift.

Depression is one of those terms that is perhaps a little over-used. We’ve all done it and all heard it. Most people have at some point talked about “being depressed”, usually about the weather, but there is a belief, particularly within business, that it’s just an excuse to get off work for a bit. This has a knock-on effect. Depression is not taken seriously and real sufferers can be ignored and sometimes bullied.

It’s not just a British problem either. Earlier this month some statistics emerged from the World Health Care Conference claiming that mental health issues cost North America and Europe about four per cent of their combined domestic product, or $1.3 trillion each year. It also reported that 90 per cent of all mental health issues relate to depression and approximately 18 per cent of people in the workforce are currently battling depression.

Those are big statistics but they will do little to convince the sceptics. However it is quite clear that depression at work, whether you believe in it or not can lead to poor business performance. Brushing it under the carpet only exacerbates the problem and can lead to lost business opportunities and revenues.  That’s surely a language any business can understand.

Interestingly last year, Jo Swinson MP tabled a number of early day motions in Parliament to promote well-being, including a proposal to improve access to psychological therapies. She proposed a motion that the House “regards depression as a serious condition that can profoundly diminish a person’s wellbeing and recognises that psychological cognitive-behavioural therapy is an effective and scientifically validated form of treatment.”

It’s essentially why we set up Black Dog Tribe, to provide a sort of social therapy platform, where sufferers and carers can share experiences and hopefully help each other. What was really most healing for me when I had depression was meeting my own people, my tribe. It’s important to know you’re not alone and there is a kind of comfort in knowing that you both feel like the walking dead. It’s also such a relief to be with someone who will never say, “Perk up.”

These are small steps we are taking but what is ultimately the root cause for many people is individual business culture.  Not all businesses behave the same but where there is a culture of high octane sales and a need to impress the boss 24/7 with lots of success charts and high fives, the pressure can often be telling.

It was interesting to see the Bergen Work Addiction Scale' get some publicity recently. It looks at the kind of behaviour that is displayed by all kinds of addicts but related to the workplace. Work addiction is getting worse, according to the scale because the boundaries between home and office are becoming blurred, which leads to increased stress and in some cases breakdown. Surely these things are common sense? Businesses are as good as the people driving them but if you don’t look after your drivers you are going to crash.

 

Recession depression, Photograph: Getty Images.

Ruby Wax is the founder of Black Dog Tribe.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.