Does poor mental health affect work, or is it more likely that work-culture effects poor mental health?
Whilst it is undoubtedly true that being sick, sad or sullen will affect relationships and workplace performance, maybe we need to consider these possibilities…
That 100’s of emails, social posts, TV averts all competing for our attention iss not good for our concentration
That multiple demands and interruptions from different stakeholders ruins our attention and intention
That fatigue from fast food diet, rapid on-demand answers and quick fix solutions undermines the quality of our thinking
That declining wages, competition for work, a gig-economy, and family and community demands can be stressful
That eventually people feel less in control over their lives and ore hostage to circumstances, with a resultant lack of engagement
Sometimes I think the emphasis is wrong: for the people to change to suit the system, with productivity tools, resilience and coping strategies, drugs and therapy. Perhaps we should be changing the system to suit the person. Perhaps let’s stop thinking of humans as resources, which like oil, timber, water we extract as much as possible at the cheapest price maximising short-term profits and disregarding long-term impact.
I am a fan of the Power, Threat, Meaning, Response, Framework which suggests that rather than pathologising people with diagnosis and prescriptions, counselling and therapy assuming there is something wrong with THEM we increase look to the causes which are often to do with life circumstances which are seldom a recipe for happiness.
The Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF) is an alternative model to more traditional medical psychiatric diagnostic labels, developed by psychologists in the United Kingdom. The framework focuses on understanding how power imbalances, threats, and the meaning people ascribe to these experiences shape emotional distress and problematic behavior. Instead of seeing issues like depression, anxiety, or psychosis as symptoms of underlying illnesses, PTMF explores how one’s social and relational context contributes to these states.
In the context of the PTMF, “power” can be understood as social capital, influence, or control exercised by an individual, group, or institution. Dysfunctional, coercive, or subjective power is power that is misused or misapplied in a way that contributes to the distress or suffering of individuals. Here are some examples…
Parental Abuse: Parents who misuse their authority over children, subjecting them to emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
Toxic Work Environments: Hierarchies where bullying, harassment, or exploitation are tolerated or encouraged, leading to increased stress and anxiety among employees.
Medical Authority: The misuse of medical authority to over-medicate or unnecessarily institutionalize individuals, stripping them of agency.
Domestic Violence: One partner exercises coercive control over another, using threats, intimidation, and violence to maintain power in the relationship.
Authoritarian Regimes: Governments that use force, propaganda, and suppression of dissent to maintain control over their populations.
Discriminatory Policing: Law enforcement disproportionately targeting certain racial or social groups, thereby institutionalizing discrimination and inequality.
Subjective Power (or Power Imbalance)
Stigma and Stereotyping: Subjective feelings of powerlessness stemming from internalized societal beliefs, such as racial or gender-based stereotypes.
Financial Dependence: One partner controls all the financial resources, making the other partner feel powerless and dependent.
Educational Inequality: A system where access to quality education is determined by socioeconomic status, race, or other factors, leaving certain groups at a distinct disadvantage.
Ideological power is a form of power that often operates covertly, shaping our values, beliefs, norms, and practices in ways that benefit one group over another. It can be a potent force for creating and sustaining imbalances and inequalities. The Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF) would likely consider how ideological power shapes emotional and psychological experiences. Below are some examples…
Cultural Norms: Society’s norms may implicitly favor one group, making others feel excluded. For example, heteronormative culture can marginalize LGBTQ+ individuals.
Language: The dominance of a particular language or dialect can marginalize those who don’t speak it fluently.
Gender Roles: Ideological power can shape gender expectations, pressuring individuals to conform to traditional roles, which can result in emotional distress for those who don’t fit these molds.
Success Metrics: Ideologies around material success or physical attractiveness can put enormous psychological pressure on individuals to conform to these societal expectations.
Racial Ideologies: Ideologies that favor one race over others can manifest as systemic discrimination, internalized racism, and social injustice.
Cultural Appropriation: Dominant cultures taking elements from marginalized cultures without permission, often trivializing or commercializing them, can be an exercise of ideological power.
Religious Dogma: Strong religious ideologies can hold power over individuals, sometimes leading to guilt, shame, or ostracization for non-conformance.
Political Ideologies: Dominant political ideologies can marginalize those who hold differing views, making it difficult for them to engage in public discourse or find a sense of community.
Ideological power often intersects with other forms of power (like coercive or subjective power) to sustain complex systems of inequality and imbalance. These can have serious implications for mental health and wellbeing, which the PTMF aims to better understand by looking beyond medical models and considering the broader social and cultural context in which people live.
The Framework instead looks at how we make sense of these experiences and how messages from wider society can increase our feelings of shame, self-blame, isolation, fear and guilt.
The approach of the Framework is summarised in four questions that can apply to individuals, families or social groups:
What has happened to you? (How is power operating in your life?)
How did it affect you? (What kind of threats does this pose?)
What sense did you make of it? (What is the meaning of these situations and experiences to you?)
What did you have to do to survive? (What kinds of threat response are you using?)
Two further questions help us think about what skills and resources people might have and how they might pull all these ideas and responses together into a personal narrative or story:
What are your strengths? (What access to Power resources do you have?)
What is your story? (How does all this fit together?)
Thinking Feeling Being
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Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention–and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman
The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris and Simon & Schuster