|Issue No 110||07 September 2001|
Driven To The Edge
In the ACTU'S groundbreaking Fifty Families report there is one particularly sobering story. Frank tells how the modern workplace is driving some people to the fatal edge.
I used to spend an 8 hour day with the men, and then an hour before work and an hour after work of paper work, so that was making it a 9, 10 hour day 5 days a week, and a half a day Saturday, or all day Saturday...We were working extremely long hours, sometimes from 6 o'clock in the morning through to 8 o'clock at night. Often I wouldn't have my lunch break because if you did it would be a cup of coffee and a sandwich at your desk while you were doing more paperwork. And it just got progressively more and more and more, just keeping on adding to our jobs... and then one morning...bang!
...I actually went to work, and it was a really, really hot day and we had a seminar on O, H and S for some reason. And I got home at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, got away early, and I came in and I was really hot, really stinky, and my wife was on the phone with a friend. I came in - and the kids were just playing - well one was just born and the little bloke was three and was playing, and I just did my block. And I told my wife off. Had a go at my kid and then realised I was tearing the hair out of my head. And it was all because I'd just had enough of it...I'd started to bring work home - mentally - for months before that. Like on the weekend I'd come home from work on Saturday or whatever it might be and just lie in front of the TV and didn't want to talk to nobody, just wanted to be left alone. At night I'd be dreaming. Like you'd be in bed and all you'd be doing is dreaming about work...
I ended up . . . I mean once I had got to the point where I brought my work home and realised that there was just too much, I was virtually suffering from severe panic attacks, during work, and at home. Every little thing was upsetting me. If I saw something which I thought wasn't right, it'd create this panic attack where I'd feel hot and sweaty, very, very nervous, or agitated and it might last for anything from 20 minutes to an hour or two hours. And it got to the point I saw a doctor about it and he wanted me to go on medication, antidepressants or whatever. I wasn't interested in that.
But then that day when I came home and blasted my wife, and had a go at my kid - my wife, she rang the doctor and made an appointment and sent me down. And I remember breaking down and crying and going into the doctor's surgery and telling him what was going on and he gave me time off work immediately and I ended up having a number of weeks off. That turned into burnout - I went into depression, and I ended up having the full-scale mental breakdown.
And I went through stages there of complete memory loss where my wife would send me up the street to buy stuff and I'd get to the shopping centre and have absolutely no idea what I was doing there. I knew I had to buy something, but forgot what I had to buy...
Frank had something of a relapse a few months later he continues:
I ended up arguing again at home. Had a very, very bad 8 to 12 months and had suicidal thoughts before being put onto anti-depressant medication.
Despite Frank's severe experience, his employer shortly afterwards began asking Frank to extend his hours once more, and once again he broke down. He says:
Over the last say 6 months I've been seeing a psychiatrist and my GP, and taking my medication, I've been feeling better. That was up until possibly a week or two ago when they put me under [pressure again] So it got to the point where I virtually did a breakdown at work in the manager's office. I went in there to tell him, 'look, it's just too much for me.' And I actually broke down and he's since - I've got a track record I guess - so he's cut my hours down. I think he now realises that a man can only do so much.
I actually said to this manager, I said, 'Every person's got a bucket of water they've got to carry it around' and I said, 'I had too much water in that bucket - it overflows' and I actually asked that certain manager, a while ago to get someone to give me a hand because work was starting to increase and they wouldn't give me no one to help, they just said, 'no, no, you just keep on going the way you're going and we'll see what happens, we'll see what happens'... Until I virtually broke down again. It's only been the last two or three weeks where I thought 'Bugger them, I'm not going to go through that again'.
But they are still pushing me to do extra hours. And I feel strongly about not doing them... I don't think they know they are actually playing with people's lives.
The ACTU's Fifty Families Report is available at: http://www.actu.asn.au/vunions/actu/article.cfm?objectid=B5C50A85-C113-45E4-8A3B313FCE8F3A63
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005