Challenging Times

Recently I happened to pop into a coffee shop for a coffee and a sandwich and got into a conversation with a fellow male customer.  As our conversation developed he told me that he was unemployed, had high blood-pressure, high cholesterol was depressed and was experiencing insomnia.  His G.P. had prescribed medications for his blood pressure and high cholesterol and had also put him on anti-depressants and sleeping tablets.  He had previously worked for an accountancy firm, but due to the recession, had been laid off with no future prospects of being re-employed.  He told me he was really struggling financially and now did not have the cash to go to his G.P. for monitoring of his medication.  He is awaiting a medical card and has been told that it will take months for his application to be processed.  Neither is he able to afford the different medications and he had decided he would stop taking the medications for his high blood-pressure and high cholesterol; he had also stopped taking his anti-depressants, but had maintained the sleeping tablets as these gave him some relief from his overwhelming anxiety and sense of helplessness and hopelessness.  I expressed concern about his physical wellbeing and the need to maintain the medications for the physical symptoms he was having.  I also enquired whether there was anybody he could seek financial support from, but it became clear that asking for help would be a bridge too far for him to cross.  This latter phenomenon of men having difficulty in reaching out for help and support is very common and, sadly, puts them at high medical and psycho-social risk.  Somehow many men believe that asking for help is an act of dependence, but the contrary is the true reality – not asking for help is an act of dependence!  Making a request is an act of independence and acknowledges one’s worthiness to seek support and also acknowledges the worthiness of the person asked to provide support. Clearly, that person may or may not be in a position to respond to the request at that particular time and when that is honoured by both parties great progress can happen in relationships. Giving and receiving are part and parcel of human relationships and it is important that a person feels both worthy to give and to receive – and this is a two-way street.

During the following days the plight of the man I had met stayed with me and I wondered how many other individuals are experiencing such lives of quiet desperation in the present recessionary time.  I also wondered how we as a people can try and respond in affective and effective ways to the many challenges presently facing us.  Certainly, a faceless bureaucratic system that is not finding ways to respond kindly and quickly to an urgent need for a medical card (or any other medical, welfare and housing needs) needs to be addressed.  The media could also help in this regard by highlighting the struggles that individuals, couples and families are undergoing.  Too much coverage is given to fiscal rectitude and not remotely enough to emotional and social rectitude.  It does not take extra money to be more humane in our responses to individuals in distress, but, sometimes, it does take a degree of soul searching to make available the milk of human kindness.  Indeed, frequently, active listening can be enough.

Whilst I agree that policies and associated structures and strong decisions are required to resolve the ongoing economic and psycho-social crisis I fail to see a humanity in many of the corrective strategies being developed.  For example, when Enda Kenny, during his trip to China, in an authoritarian way, said that the Irish people had to obey the law and pay up for the new private housing tax, he failed  to acknowledge that there are personal, marital and family fallouts from the recession of which he needs to have an empathic awareness.  It seems strange, on the one hand, that government ministers have acknowledged that there are thousands of people struggling to find money to meet their monthly mortgage repayments and, yet, on the other hand, they ask these very same people to dig in their already empty pockets for 100 Euros!  Given that reality a more humane approach would have been to consider each person’s circumstances.  I wonder what Enda Kenny would say to the man who has no money to pay for his medication or to visit his GP.  Would he ignore this man’s health problems, depression and unemployment status and insist he obey the law?

I hope not, because we are in dire need of leaders that operate from both head and heart.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Author and Speaker.  His book Leadership with Consciousness is relevant to today’s column.  His website is