Mental Health at Work: Misconceptions and Missed Opportunities

  • Ali Haggett
Open Access
Part of the Mental Health in Historical Perspective book series


In 1942, the Medical Research Council’s Industrial Health Research Board initiated an investigation, led by Dr Russell Fraser and Dr Elizabeth Bunbury, into neurotic illness as a cause of absence from work. Prompted by concerns about industrial efficiency during wartime, the research focused on light and medium engineering industries from Birmingham and Greater London and attempted to gauge the ‘true incidence’ of the condition and ‘its effects on production’.1 Their study of 3,000 workers found that 9.1 per cent of male workers and 13 per cent of female workers had suffered from what was described as ‘definite’ neurosis.2 The number of male cases uncovered in this study was significantly higher than those that were to emerge later in studies during the 1950s and 1960s from general practice, which broadly suggested a female to male ratio of 2:1. Once again, a familiar feature of this study was that greater numbers of men were diagnosed with what Fraser described as ‘disabling psychosomatic symptoms’ (3.5 per cent of men and 2.1 per cent of women). When the figures are taken together, it would appear that psychological and psychosomatic illness was a significant problem for men as well as women.


  1. 4.
    Rachel Jenkins, ‘Minor psychiatric morbidity in employed young men and women and its contribution to sickness absence’, British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1985), 42, 147–54, on 149, 150.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Vicky Long, The Rise and Fall of the Healthy Factory: The Politics of Industrial Health in Britain, 1914–60 (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp. 7–9. Long explores the negotiations between the trade unions, employers, the medical profession and the state.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    H. A. Waldron, Occupational Health Practice (London, Butterworths, 1989 [1973]), p. 9. For a full account of the history of occupational health,Google Scholar
  4. see Arthur J. McIvor, A History of Work in Britain 1880–1950 (Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2001)Google Scholar
  5. and Paul Weindling (ed.), The Social History of Occupational Health (London, Croom Helm, 1985).Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Charles Myers, Industrial Psychology (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1929), p. 9.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Sarah Hayes, ‘Industrial automation and stress in post-war Britain’, in Mark Jackson (ed.), Stress in Post-War Britain (London, Pickering and Chatto, 2015), p. 75Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Hayes, ‘Industrial automation’, pp. 75–6. For earlier concerns about industrial fatigue, prompted by the First World War, see M. Greenwood, A Report on the Cause of Wastage of Labour in Munition Factories (London, MRC, HMSO, 1918).Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    World Health Organization, Mental Health Problems of Automation (WHO Technical Report Series, 183, 1959), p. 5.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    For the first detailed study of absenteeism, see Hilde Behrend, ‘Voluntary absence from work’, International Labour Review (1959), 79, 109–40.Google Scholar
  11. 23.
    J. K. Chadwick-Jones, Nigel Nicolson and Colin Brown, Social Psychology of Absenteeism (New York, Praeger, 1982), p. 130.Google Scholar
  12. 24.
    J. K. Chadwick-Jones, C. A. Brown and N. Nicholson, ‘Absence from work: Its meaning, measurement and control’, International Review of Applied Psychology (1973), 22 (2), 37–54, on 40.Google Scholar
  13. 25.
    P. Froggatt, ‘Short-term absence from industry: I Literature, definitions, data and the effect of age and length of service’, British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1970), 27, 199–210, on 206, 210.Google Scholar
  14. 27.
    Viviane Isambert-Jamati, ‘Absenteeism among women workers in industry’, International Labour Review (1962), 85, 248–61, on 252.Google Scholar
  15. 40.
    Off Sick, pp. 5, 6. A trend noted by all authors, see for example, P. J. Taylor and J. Burridge, ‘Trends in death, disablement and sickness absence in the British Post Office since 1891’, British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1982), 39, 1–10, on 6.Google Scholar
  16. 42.
    P. J. Taylor, ‘Individual variations in sickness absence’, British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1967), 24, 169–77, on 169.Google Scholar
  17. 43.
    P. J. Taylor, ‘Personal factors associated with sickness absence’, British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1968) 25, 106–18, on 109.Google Scholar
  18. 50.
    See Allison Milner et al., ‘Suicide by occupation, systematic review and meta-analysis’, Review Article, BJP (2013), 203, 409–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 56.
    J. E. Ager and P. A. B. Raffle, Patterns of Sickness Absence: Experience of London Transport Workers over Two Decades (London, London Transport Executive, 1975).Google Scholar
  20. 70.
    David Ferguson, ‘Some characteristics of repeated sickness absence’, British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1972), 29, 420–31, on 430.Google Scholar
  21. 72.
    David Ferguson, ‘A study of neurosis and occupation’, British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1973), 30, 187–98, on 187.Google Scholar
  22. 77.
    Michael H. Banks, Chris W. Clegg, Paul R. Jackson, Nigel J. Kemp, Elizabeth M. Stafford and Toby D. Wall, ‘The use of the General Health Questionnaire as an indicator of mental health in occupational studies’, Journal of Occupational Psychology (1980), 53, 187–94, on 188. Godberg’s GHQ was published in 1972 –see Chapter 1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 80.
    See for example, A. Ryle, ‘The neuroses in a general practice population’, Journal of the College of General Practice (1960), 3, 313–28.Google Scholar
  24. 82.
    R. S. F. Schilling, ‘Assessing the health of the industrial worker’, British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1957), 14, 145–9, on 145.Google Scholar
  25. 92.
    A. M. Adelstein, ‘Absence from work attributed to sickness’, Conference Report, British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1969), 26 (2), 169–70, on 70.Google Scholar
  26. 94.
    Susan H. Meadows, ‘Health examinations of senior staff in industry’, British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1964), 21, 226–30 on 228.Google Scholar
  27. 96.
    Mark Jackson, The Age of Stress: Science and the Search for Stability (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 103.
    Arthur McIvor, Working Lives: Work in Britain since 1945 (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p. 80.Google Scholar
  29. 106.
    Eileen Janes Yeo, ‘Taking it like a man’, Labour History Review (2004), 69, 129–33, on 129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 112.
    David Walker, ‘Danger was a thing that ye were brought up wi’: Workers’ narratives on occupational health and safety in the workplace’, Scottish Labour History (2011), 46, 54–70, on 57.Google Scholar
  31. 115.
    Nick Hayes, ‘Did manual workers want industrial welfare? Canteens, latrines and masculinity on British building sites’, Journal of Social History (2002), 35 (3), 637–58, on 639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 119.
    Ronnie Johnston and Arthur McIvor, ‘Dangerous work, hard men and broken bodies: Masculinity in the Clydeside heavy industries c. 1930–1970s’, Labour History Review (2004), 69 (2), 135–51, on 141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 126.
    Pat Ayres, ‘Work, culture and gender: The making of masculinities in postwar Liverpool’, Labour History Review (2004), 69 (2), 154–7, on 156.Google Scholar
  34. 127.
    Michael Roper, Masculinity and the British Organization Man since 1945 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 112.Google Scholar
  35. 131.
    A topic discussed in McIvor, Working Lives, on p. 165. For an account that is critical of the unions, see Peter Bartrip, ‘Workmen’s compensation’, in Paul Weindling (ed.), The Social History of Occupational Health (London, Croom Helm, 1988), 157–79.Google Scholar
  36. 145.
    Mary Hilson, The Nordic Model: Scandinavia since 1945 (London, Reaktion, 2013 edition), p. 93.Google Scholar
  37. 147.
    Gerald N. Grob, Mental Illness and American Society 1875–1940 (New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1983), p. 150.Google Scholar
  38. See also, Jose M. Bertolote, ‘The roots of the concept of mental health’, World Psychiatry (2008), 7, 113–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 149.
    Alan A. McLean, ‘Occupational mental health: Review of an emerging art’, Frank Baker, Peter J. M. McEwan and Alan Sheldon (eds), Industrial Organizations and Health (London, Tavistock Publications, 1969), pp. 164–91, on p. 167.Google Scholar
  40. 153.
    W. Donald Ross, Practical Psychiatry for Industrial Physicians (Illinois, Charles C Thomas, 1956), p. 22.Google Scholar
  41. 160.
    Rachel Jenkins, ‘Minor psychiatric morbidity in employed young men and women and its contribution to sickness absence’, British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1985), 42, 147–54, on 150.Google Scholar
  42. 168.
    Cary L. Cooper and Judi Marshall, ‘Occupational sources of stress: A review of the literature relating to coronary heart disease and mental health’, Journal of Occupational Psychology (1976), 49, 11–28, on 13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 171.
    Rachel Jenkins, ‘Minor psychiatric morbidity and labour turnover’, British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1985), 42, 534–9.Google Scholar
  44. 173.
    R. Jenkins, ‘Mental health of people at work’, in Waldron (ed.), Occupational Health Practice (London, Butterworths, 1989 [1973] , pp. 73–99, on p. 97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Ali Haggett 2015

Open Access This Chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ali Haggett
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ExeterUK

Personalised recommendations