Issue 14 / 5 October 2010

OCCASIONALLY landing on my desk are communications that focus on how well we are travelling in these modern times.

Among these have been two reports focusing on persistent stress and its twin, procrastination.

The former was Lifeline’s media release of its annual stress poll for 2010 conducted by Newspoll (1 July), which estimated that 90% of Australians were experiencing stress.

Indeed, 43% of Australians, just short of 9.5 million of us, were found to be very stressed!

Surprisingly, despite our “She’ll be right, mate” culture, we appear to be more stressed than Americans; a comparable poll in the United States revealed that 75% of its people were stressed, with 25% experiencing high levels of stress.

Significantly, the most important stressor for Australians is their work, with 74% of those employed finding work stressful and 23% finding it very stressful.

It would seem we are all drowning in oceans of occupational stress.

Some time before this, my attention was drawn to a commentary that explored the phenomenon of chronic procrastination.(1)

Evidently, this affliction is even more common than depression. Sadly, however, it can actually lower self-esteem, cause insomnia and, when intractable, bring on depression.

According to a US academic who has studied the problem, the social and economic implications of procrastination are massive.

Why, you may well ask, are we so burdened and not able to cope? Is it the pervasive Protestant work ethic?

Or is it the demands of an increasingly impatient and invasive society, wherein we are constantly exposed to the insistence of instant communication — emails, mobile phone calls and text messages — and an insatiable culture that expects everything to be done yesterday?

Could procrastination simply be a refuge from the pressures of this instant way of life?

Modern medicine regales us with acronyms, such as PTSD, OCD and others. Should we now add another: MSPD — modern stress and procrastination disorders?

Or should we accept these phenomena as part of daily living and resist the temptation to medicalise normal human experiences and reactions?

Dr Martin Van Der Weyden is the Editor of the MJA.

This article is reproduced from the MJA with permission.

1.   Smith R. Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow. J R Soc Med 2008; 101: 478.


Med J Aust 2010; 193; 377.


Posted 5 October 2010

5 thoughts on “Martin Van Der Weyden: A cure for stress? No worries

  1. Dr Joe says:

    Hear hear!! The medicalisation of behaviour needs to be stopped. We have experiences in life and we react to these.Some make us happy ,some sad,some stressed.This is NORMAL and needs to be seen as such. Giving it a label and making it a disease achieves nothing other than to dis-empower people by telling them they have a disease when all they need to do is get on with life.

  2. Glen Smith says:

    Maybe the question is what is the source/root cause of the problem?
    1. Work
    2. Poor work environment
    3. Lifestyle
    4. Demands
    5. Other possibilities

    Maybe by knowing the root of the problem we will be able to identify the solution.
    This may be
    1. Resolved in the workplace
    2. Medicalistaion
    3. Social change
    4. Other possibilities etc

    The European Survey of Enterprises
    on New and Emerging Risks (ESENER)
    Managing safety and health at work
    on page 86 found that
    “The factors affecting a company’s decision to
    take preventive action are multidimensional and
    include rationality, economics, values and norms
    and compliance with the law. ESENER found that
    fulfilment of legal obligations and requests from
    employees were the most important drivers for
    promotion of health and safety in general, but that
    fulfilment of the legal obligations is particularly
    relevant to action on psychosocial risks.”

  3. Dr Paul says:

    Sounds to me as if drug companies are sponsoring more diseases into which they can plug in their psychoactive drugs! Will yawning soon be a psychiatric illness? No Australian will be relaxed in the next decade!!

  4. Max says:

    Goodonyer Dr Paul – and not only are drug companies sponsoring more diseases, they are also providing a means for people to hand over responsibility for their lives and actions to exotically named diseases and the medication magic bullets.
    We talk of over-prescribed antibiotics (and we used to talk about over-prescribed valium) but now we have a pill (and a disease) for every occasion.

    Not many people work because they want to; not many people have a career that they chose and which gives them fulfillment. Most people work at jobs – to pay the bills. Workplaces are stressful if we look at them as regulated places, with a hierarchy and a range of personalities, on top of which workers are expected to perform tedious tasks whilst longing for the knock-off whistle.
    Likewise, the process of living is stressful, families are stressful, traffic is stressful,finding a parking spot is stressful, losing a football match is stressful, listening to ignorant, ill-informed people is stressful etc. How did the human race survive wars, poverty, famine, plague before the advent of the wonder drugs?

    Everyone will experience sadness, apathy, lethargy, haplessness, hopelessness during their lives. That’s when family and friends are needed – not a pill. However, the latter is now more commonly sought. Patients feel vindicated when a doctor provides a disease and a prescription – none of this counselling, “sharing and caring” and common sense business, gimme a name and a pill.

    Thus, I believe that doctors need to practice “tough love” – tell the patient what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Certainly provide an “ear” and give reassurance and encouragement – even empathy. It is OK to feel mad, or sad.
    I am confident that doctors, both from medical knowledge and personal knowledge, are capable of identifying those patients who do need support beyond their own resources.

  5. Christopher Veale says:

    I agree there have to limits to medicalisation.

    But can we avoid the possibility of actually trivialising those that do suffer. I have patients with OCD who are severely incapacitated and the veterans I see who suffer from PTSD do not feel regaled by their suffering.

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