Toil and trouble

Before his brewery was taken over, Harry had been as happy as Larry: 'I loved my job. We worked from Monday to Friday, nine to five, leaving the weekends for my wife and son.' Then came the takeover and some big changes, including many redundancies among his friends. But it was the need to be more flexible that literally drove him mad.

Recalled Harry, 'We weren't getting all the beer out that was needed, so they decided to have seven-day, 24-hour cover. Suddenly we were working 12-hour shifts at all hours. On top of this we were expected to "multiskill", so I found myself doing jobs I'd never done before, like computer work.'

Within a week of this new regime, Harry was very distressed. 'It was just, like, Whack! Running into a brick wall. I was having time off when I would usually be at work, and working weekends or nights when I'd usually be at home. I've never had jet lag, but I imagine that this is what it would feel like.'

Although he had never suffered from mental illness before, Harry became suicidally depressed. He recovered, but only antidepressants enabled him to keep working.

Britain is following American patterns of working: longer, more antisocial hours, 'downsized' workforces having to perform a greater variety of tasks, and greater job insecurity. Neither government nor industry are in any hurry to commission research into the effect on workers' lives but the research that has been done, mostly funded by charities, proves Harry is no freak.

Job Insecurity and Work Intensification by B Burchell (Routledge) describes a study from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Based on detailed interviews with all levels of employee in 20 different organisations, it found that rates of anxiety and depression reflected volume of work, degree ofpressure to be flexible and staffing levels. Patterns of sleeping were also disrupted, bearing out Harry's analogy between jet lag and unsocial working hours. There were also increased tensions at home, with stressed employees becoming irritable and aggressive.

The reason given for the new working practices was greater global competitiveness. Although managers reported that they tried to pass new price pressures on to suppliers or customers, in practice they devolvedon to the shoulder of the workforce. The demands on employees who survived downsizing increased massively. Higher pay could not compensate for the loss of emotional and conjugal sanguinity.

But this is not inevitable. A report by the Industrial Society proves that a less freefall employment environment is actually more productive. France's has been considerably more productive than that of Britain or America for some time, despite the French having much shorter and more social hours, with higher pay.

World Health Organisation (WHO) research proves that rates of mental illness are three times higher in Anglo-Saxon, compared with European, nations. More generally, the WHO shows that as developing nations become more industrialised rates of mental illness soar.

oliver.james@observer.co.uk

The mental block

· What is true of monkeys is not necessarily true of humans, but some animal evidence is compelling. A study ('Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences') swapped newborn female monkeys of abusive mothers with ones whose mothers were non-abusive. None of the monkeys given to nonabusive adoptive mothers turned into abusers, regardless of whether their biological mothers had been abusers. But threequarters of the monkeys given to abusive adoptive mothers became abusers, regardless of what their biological mothers had been like. Implication: abusive mothering is learnt, not genetic (and if you are a monkey with an unabusive mother, try to avoid getting involved in research projects).

· Users of Sad (seasonal affective disorder) lamps should switch them on all year round (Psychological Medicine). Half of depressed people who exposed themselves to a Sad lamp every morning for five weeks, regardless of time of year, remitted from the illness, whereas none of the control group did.

· Getting congregations, of whatever denomination, to pray for you if you are undergoing heart surgery will not improve your chances on its own (The Lancet). More direct spiritual intervention does. Patients in the study who received pre-surgery treatment from a 'Healing Touch' therapist and were taught breathing exercises, visualised being in a peaceful place and played calming music were more likely to be alive six months after their operation and suffered far less distress than other patients.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.