Should the job of national politician carry a government health warning?

Weinberg, A ORCID: 2011, 'Should the job of national politician carry a government health warning?' , in: The Psychology of Politicians , Cambridge University Press, pp. 123-142.

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Psychological health remains a fascinating area for research, not least because it integrates so many expressions of the natural human state: emotions, thoughts, actions and well-being. On the side of the equation which is ill-health, these states are laced with the potential for unpredictable and undesirable outcomes which have come to be labelled and categorised, although not always with clarity or helpful results. In this chapter, psychological strain will refer to the experience of symptoms of poor psychological health and its impact on serving national politicians. Chronicled here are a number of quantitative studies conducted by the author mainly in the UK between 1992 and 2010. It is thought that one in five people will experience some form of psychological disorder during their working life and that similar difficulties are likely to affect one in three of us at some stage (Weinberg, Sutherland and Cooper, 2010). Naturally this includes elected representatives, who are relied upon to take key decisions which affect the functioning of the nation. In the case of a doctor who makes important choices at the level of the individual, one would not normally consider asking about his or her health, as this is often taken for granted; additionally if they went on sick leave, a replacement is usually available. However, in the case of a national politician, constituents are equally unlikely to be preoccupied with their representative’s health, yet there is little prospect of an immediate substitute in the event of their becoming ill. Furthermore, a politician is less willing to admit to that aspect of ill-health characterised by psychological strain where it might be considered likely to jeopardise their position, especially given the existence of high levels of ambition within this occupational group (Weinberg, Cooper and Weinberg, 1999). In this circumstance, the politician is apt to carry on in the job for fear of signalling weaknesses to their colleagues and rivals – the results of this scenario for the individual job-holder or the democratic process are hard to estimate, but the financial cost of presenteeism (working while ill) is thought to be considerably more than that of absenteeism (Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, 2007). The Member of Parliament’s (MP) role is both cognitively and socially demanding and routinely requires assimilation of large quantities of information, considerable analytical ability, finely tuned judgements as well as effective communication skills for dealing with political allies and opponents, party members, constituents and the media. Notwithstanding the politician’s likely personal resilience and track record of motivation and conviction, the potential for overload is clear. For a politician experiencing symptoms of strain, the threat to their health posed by further exacerbating their symptoms in such a challenging role may be significant.

Item Type: Book Section
Editors: Weinberg, A
Schools: Schools > School of Health and Society
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 9780521130660 (paperback); 9780521113724 (hardback); 9781139026482 (online)
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Depositing User: USIR Admin
Date Deposited: 14 Dec 2020 11:29
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 21:48

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