Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Is this woman for real?

I always thought Janet Street-Porter had a raw deal. Famous for fifteen minutes in the late 1970s (though I'm buggered if I can remember what for - presenting a TV show?) she rapidly became remembered mainly for the wickedly accurate parody of her which Pamela Stephenson provided on Not The Nine O'Clock News. I always felt a bit sorry for her: after all, we can't help having protruding teeth and an irritating accent. (Though her accent always made me feel like Jack Lenmon's comment in Some Like It Hot on Tony Curtis's assumed upper-class accent: "Nobody talks like that".)

Until now. Now I am beginning to think her deal wasn't nearly rough enough. Because on Saturday she published a piece in the Daily Mail entitled Depression? It's just the new trendy illness!

I'm not sure where to start with this, to be frank. In her article she confuses stress and clinical depression, but as she considers both to be imaginary fashion accessories that is probably the least of her faults.

Wait! She says "I am not denying that clinical depression is a real mental illness, or that it can be debilitating for sufferers." But then she says "They're even dredging up dodgy statistics to prove that depression - assuming there is such a thing - is on the increase". So not denying very much, then.

And of course it's a class thing:

I am not denying that clinical depression is a real mental illness, or that it can be debilitating for sufferers. But let's take a moment to consider whether depression is common among the poor or the working class?

If you're a black South African woman growing up in a township, or a mum in a slum favela in Rio, or a supermarket shelf-stacker in Croydon, or one of the band of low-paid female workers who go to work at 3am to clean the offices of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Britain in the City of London, you probably aren't afflicted by depression. What you're more likely to be suffering from is poverty, exhaustion and a deficient diet. You will have bills you can't pay and a struggle to feed and clothe your kids.

My mum's generation didn't suffer from stress or depression. Instead, they just got on with the washing up, the ironing, their long hours in low-paid jobs, and - every Saturday without fail - they baked a bloody good Victoria sponge. The current load of depressives have cleaners, attractive kids at all the best schools, washing machines and spin-dryers, and enough money to buy readymade swanky cup cakes.

While it would be interesting to see the research basis for her statement that depression is uncommon among cleaners and shelf-stackers (and even more so if one extends that scepticism to include stress, as her article clearly suggests one should) it's her suggestion that middle-class or well-off folk don't really have anything to complain about so can't suffer from depression.

OK. Hand up for the most famous sufferer from depression (the "black dog") in the past hundred years?

I'd go for Winston Churchill.

Oh wait, he was a man. And Janet Omniscient-Pillock has no time for men who claim to be depressed:

Now, men are jumping on the depression bandwagon - bestselling author Tim Lott wrote a misery memoir The Scent Of Dried Roses. He says that GPs are not trained to spot depression in men, and one of the reasons more men don't own up to it is because they are routinely expected to be strong, and there's a massive stigma attached to admitting you can't cope....... At this point, I'm afraid to say, I laugh out loud. The idea of feeling sorry for a bloke with low self-esteem is, frankly, risible.

And Churchill wasn't even a poor oppressed immigrant!

OK, Janet, laugh at Winston Churchill if you like (and his bouts of depression were not merely products of his wartime stresses). Let's see how many of your Daily Mail fans think he was a risible sufferer from low self-esteem.

Of course there are plenty of people who cope with their lives, and I have nothing but admiration for them. If Janet Street-Porter is such a one, I salute her. This does not, however, give her the right to describe all those who are less well-adjusted as effectively (for she doesn't use the word) malingerers. One of the first groups to be identified with what we would now call work-related stress (which is not the same thing as PTSD) is the men and women who staffed the control rooms during the Battle of Britain. They were working crazily long hours, and any shortfall in their work quality would mean dead people. Funnily enough they got stressed out: and it didn't seem to depend on their socio-economic class.

Let me personalise this. There is a rule of thumb which doctors use for determining whether people have undergone stress-inducing events. They accumulate a score for things like "change of job", "divorce", "moving house", "becoming a parent", "bereavement", and so on. A long time ago now, various people had commented that my behaviour had become rather strange, and I went to my doctor. We totted up (over the preceding few years) two bereavements, an estrangement from a sibling, two house moves, a change of job, the arrival of a daughter and several other events calculated to cause stress. I wasn't depressed, but I was very definitely suffering from stress, and was referred to a therapist who was eventually extremely helpful. Other than for my various appointments, I didn't take any time off work. It never occurred to me to consider my situation fashionable: indeed the only people who knew were my wife and my immediate manager at work.

Perhaps Janet Street-Porter would have sailed through the situation in which I found myself without any self-doubt, any feelings of hopelessness or inability to cope. Well, bully for Janet Street-Porter.

JSP is caustic about the incidence of backache in the 1990s. She may have a point in that people who now own up to "mental" problems such as stress or depression were discouraged from reporting them in the 1990s, preferring instead to report more "physical" problems such as backache. So, we've become less judgmental about mental illness. Is that a problem, Janet? (And incidentally, we almost certainly have improved workplace ergonomics in the past twenty years. Thanks for the most part to lobbying from various trade unions. Eat that, Daily Mail readers.)

At the end of the day, JSP is spouting bolllocks with no scientific backing whatsoever. It's hard to see who benefits from her ill-informed wibbling. Well, apart from Janet Street-Porter. Ah.


At 17 May, 2010 12:26, Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg said...

I'll give you an actual comment as opposed to spam!

Great demolishing of JSP. What is it about writing for the Daily Mail that makes people bring out this sort of nonsense? I get that it is the DM, but really? How can someone be so alienated from humanity to be this careless in expressing an idea?

Stress can be immensely difficult to deal, especially when people's lives may depend on your actions at work. And yes, untangling stress from full-blown depression is important: but this is something of a continuum. And without due care and support, and YES a voice to those experiencing and dealing with stress/depression little gets done.

What one person can cope with, another may find impossible to respond it. Whilst putting your experiences into perspective can help (yes, being a slum-living person in Africa probably is worse then the pressures of juggling your two-parent two-children and a mortgage life), the problem is that it is NOT a competition as to who can have the worst experience. Feelings are not in themselves illegitimate; but sometimes you need support/time to recognise the good things and manage the less good ones more effectively.

I had a very valuable conversation once with a young woman who had spent several years homeless, had left a violently abusive relationship and was bringing up two kids alone. She absolutely defended the right of a colleague whose partner 'only' verbally abused her to feel as bad as she did and to seek the support she needed to deal with the impact of her circumstances. Dividing people into those who can deserve to be stressed/depressed and those who can't is rather like distinguishing between the deserving and undeserving poor. Its a false distinction.

At 17 May, 2010 17:28, Blogger Eddie Louise said...

The other thing JSP leaves out in this facile report is the 'Hume' factor. 'I haven't suffered real depression... yet.'

I am a person who had never felt the touch of clinical depression. I was always able to 'buck-up' and get on with it.

Until last year, when my home was taken from me, I was forced to move back to a country that had become foreign, leave behind all my friends, and attempt to start a new life with little to no support.

I learned that, given the right ingredients, even a relentlessly upbeat person such as myself can suffer depression.

Thanks to having wise friends and counselors I recognized what was happening to me and was able to take steps to avoid an endless downward spiral.

Summation: There but for the grace of God go I. Depression can happen at anytime to anyone - even we stoic types.

At 17 May, 2010 22:11, Blogger JoeinVegas said...

One of the positives of her writing is that it provides another source for your posts and comments.

At 19 May, 2010 00:47, Blogger Rob said...

I'm just waiting for her next expose: Motor Neurone Disease (aka Lou Gehrig's Disease), the must-have accessory for sad nerds who want to look like geniuses.


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