Wednesday, 2 January 2013

On stress-past and present



During the Christmas period I over heard two young women complaining on how hard life was compared with the past. It is a source of puzzlement to me that we are living in an age where most people live longer and healthier lives with access to modern health care and social services and yet seem to be unhappy. The number of prescriptions for antidepressants, as one indicator, increased by 28% from 34m in 2007-08 to 43.4m in 2010-11, according to the NHS information centre. For a majority though standards of living are better than they were 50 years. Work now does not have the physical dangers of a century ago in industries like coal mining. Even the shopping experience is superior to that encountered by people in the past. Greater choice, goods always in season in one place is to be expected and obtained today. In short for many the lives they live are far better and less hazardous than their ancestors lives.

The picture that heads this article is that of my grand mother Hannah Sherwin born in 1890. The picture was taken in 1918. Her history serves as a crushing rejoinder to those today who bemoan their lot. By her teens both her parents were dead and she was left to bring up 4 siblings. A brother and a sister died in a typhoid outbreak after playing in a polluted area in Hanley in 1912. Four relatives including a beloved brother- George Mitchell- were killed in the trenches of the First World War. Her first husband Harry Cartwright who she married at Milton Church in 1917 died of wounds the year later in France two weeks before the end of the war. Afterwards she met and married my grandfather whose illnesses and wounds received serving in the 7th North Staffs in Mesopotamia shortened his life. Both lived through the dangers of the Second War including bombing of the steelworks close to where they lived. Their sons served in the forces, safely returning.  I barely knew my grandparents who both died in 1958 when I was 3.

I suppose the strains of modern life are exacerbated by the loss of community and the needs for individuals to succeed, but no one can convince me that queuing up in a supermarket is as stressful as charging across a muddy field against German machine guns.