During my first London assignment in the mid-1990’s, I woke up early to run around Regent’s Park. I had to run through a few neighborhood streets before crossing into the park. One of the streets was St. John’s Wood High Street. This street was lined with small shops, restaurants, and grocery stores. One morning, I ran past a news stand that was stacked with recently delivered newspapers and magazines. I suddenly tumbled onto the concrete sidewalk in front of the news stand. Bruised and scraped, I slowly picked myself up off the ground. How could this have happened? As I looked around, I noticed a plastic tie used to bundle the newspapers. My running shoes had caught it just right and it lassoed me like a cowboy’s lariat. I walked to recover from the fall, then slowly continued my run.
As the workday progressed, I realized that although I did not suffer any broken bones, I had deeply bruised my glute muscle. My office colleagues noticed me limping and asked about my accident. After I recounted my tale of woe, they suggested I go to physiotherapy. I asked for recommendations and was told that my employer provided free physiotherapy services in our building. I went to the physiotherapy room and after an exam, was given treatments that lasted several weeks. This allowed me to continue to work while receiving treatments.
Being an American not used to the British health system, I asked why my employer provided this service, rather than a health provider. UK medical services are nationalized under the National Health Service (NHS). All persons within the UK can access the NHS for free. While the NHS is excellent for the very sick, cases like my accident are treated with low priority. Seeking medical help for non-life-threatening diseases and accidents is time-consuming. Normally, a patient is placed in a long queue until a doctor is available. My employer decided to fund a private physiotherapy service in our office to keep employees productively working rather than being off from work. The corporate cost of employee sick time exceeded the cost of the private physiotherapy service. Other medical services were funded by my employer for the same reason.
In a Financial Times article dated September 1 2023, Sickness and work is a disaster that must be fixed: An increasing number of younger people are suffering disabilities so bad they cannot do a job, the author, Camilla Cavendish, discussed the current UK problem of workers dropping out of the workforce: “there are now 2.6mn people off work as a result of long-term sickness.” This number has increased since the pandemic. While many older workers (over 50) have retired, the largest relative increase is younger workers (16–35). Startlingly, “a 30-year-old with no qualifications is more likely to report a disability than a 50-something university graduate.”
Cavendish asks the question: “Are people really too sick to work, or are they just sick of working?” The UK Office for Budget Responsibility stated that perhaps disability benefits are too generous. She doesn’t agree and uses her mother’s manic depressive illness as evidence: she “fought to keep her job to retain her sanity.” There are many mental health conditions where a person can receive treatments and still work.
“What can be done? One thing is clear. Leaving people waiting weeks or months to talk to a therapist, is not good for mental health.” I witnessed this firsthand while working in London. My admin person left work due to head pain. It took her several weeks to see a doctor, then several more weeks to get an MRI. She could not work yet was unable to get a diagnosis for a month due to the NHS backlog. She endured pain and the company paid her wages without her beneficial work. It was a lose-lose situation. The issue is financial as the UK government gives priority to NHS critical care, and the remainder of the budget is discretionarily allocated. This unproductive wait time is not taken into budget decisions. Hence, my employer decided to privately fund some medical services to subsidize the underfunded NHS. My employer and fellow employees took the brunt of the underfunded NHS.
I was fortunate to only take two sick days during my 34 years of employment. I did leave the office occasionally for medical exams and tests. The people I supervised did not abuse my employer’s sick leave policy. However, the current record level of young adults seeking mental health services is disturbing. I have compassion for those seeking treatment and support their openness. Certainly, additional mental health resources are needed. But more must be done to understand the underlying reasons for the rise in younger age mental health issues.
One such factor is coddling, the sheltering of teens from life’s hardships or difficulties. I do not support bullies but allowing youths to experience age-appropriate failures and stresses are a part of growing up. Overprotectiveness only delays the inevitable learning process. By the time young adults are ready to enter the work force, they should be equipped with adversity life skills.
Young David (later King David) had to deal with Saul’s mental illness. There were no medical treatments during Biblical time. A paranoid Saul tried to kill him. But David showed compassion and leadership during this stressful period while Saul turned to mediums and wizards for direction (1 Samuel 28:3–25). David could have killed Saul (1 Samuel 26:1–25) but spared him. Dealing with stress during his youth enabled David to mature his natural leadership skills. Having compassion for Saul showed his faith in something far greater than himself.