UK paperback

Take a moment to consider

Research, the Janet Street-Porter way

Janet Street-Porter has written something that is particularly vicious and outright untrue even by the usual standards of the Daily Mail:

There’s a big black cloud hanging over parts of the UK, and it’s not going away. Not volcanic ash — but depression. This relatively new ailment appeared on my radar a couple of years ago, when I discovered that more and more women were claiming they suffered from ‘stress’.

Depression is a “relatively new ailment”, perhaps, in the sense that a term used in medical contexts for 150 years (to ignore arguendo the long history of “melancholia” before that) can hardly compete in the longevity stakes with, I don’t know, demonic possession. But wait, Street-Porter does affect to strike a reasonable note:

I am not denying that clinical depression is a real mental illness, or that it can be debilitating for sufferers.

Oh! Okay!

But let’s take a moment to consider whether depression is common among the poor or the working class?

Oh sure, let’s take that moment!

A: [P]eople living in ‘economic hardship’ on a long-term basis, were much more likely to be suffering from clinical depression than those not living in economic hardship.

B: About one in six Americans say they have at some point been diagnosed with depression, and the rate is nearly twice as high for lower-income people […]

C: Children from poor families are more likely than their peers to be depressed as teenagers, with effects that can ultimately make it harder to climb out from poverty […]

D: [C]hronic depressive episodes […] are associated with poorer physical health, lower quality of life, socioeconomic disadvantage and minority status […]

E: [D]epressive and anxiety disorders [in South-East Asia] are disabling and can prevent sufferers from carrying out their tasks at home and in employment and thus have adverse economic implications for the individual, their families and society. Irrespective of the average per capita income of a society, persons who are at the bottom end of the social hierarchy are at a greater risk of suffering from these disorders than those who are at the upper end.

That’s just what I found in 10 minutes’ googling; but I think that must count as a moment, in Street-Porter’s parlance. So, let us see what her own moment of research turned up:

If you’re a black South African woman growing up in a township, or a mum in a slum favela in Rio, or a supermarket shelf-stacker in Croydon, or one of the band of low-paid female workers who go to work at 3am to clean the offices of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Britain in the City of London, you probably aren’t afflicted by depression.

Oh, right! She asked us to take a moment to consider whether depression is common among the poor or the working class, and I, like a fool, thought that meant something like “consult the mass of available evidence staring you in the internet’s face, like any minimally competent and self-respecting hack would and should do”, whereas what Street-Porter actually wanted me to do — and went on to demonstrate so superbly herself — was just make shit up, drawing a factually false conclusion from purely imaginary anecdotes. This journalism business is easier than I thought!

  1. 1  Daniel Simpson  May 18, 2010, 9:07 am 

    Perhaps she’s a closet mystic?

    “I then discovered how a long time devoted to small details exalts us and increases our strength.”

  2. 2  jane fleming  May 18, 2010, 9:45 am 

    Seems Ms Janet Street Porter has become a “500 words a day” paid writer. Think of a topic, send it in by 4am.
    People get depressed -socially, mentally, clinically, especially after bereavement. Loss of a friend or family member. Nothing to do with class or caste.
    Ms Janet Street Porter come back into the real world, not multi-sexual London or the Press Room, glossy magazine green room. Real people have their sense of self hurt, they are depressed. That is an issue not addressed by the quasi-research you undertook to write that journalism

  3. 3  richard  May 18, 2010, 3:31 pm 

    Although the claim as stated seems (allowing for the hedge of “probably”) to be true, as long as more than half of the people in the categories she shat out are not diagnosed with clinical depression.

    No, I’m sorry. I can’t be bothered to read the whole source article.

  4. 4  Barney  May 18, 2010, 3:32 pm 

    Nice link URL, Steven!

  5. 5  Steven  May 18, 2010, 3:38 pm 

    Barney — thanks!

    richard @3 — yes, the waters are muddied by the carefully made-up individual who is probably not depressed; though S-P really does seem to be trying to make the comparative claim that depression is less common among the poor than among the wealthy. I do urge you not to read the rest of the article, though.

  6. 6  richard  May 18, 2010, 3:51 pm 

    Rich man’s burden? Hmmm… where have I seen that before?

  7. 7  democracy_grenade  May 18, 2010, 5:13 pm 

    The paragraph that Steven quotes and which begins “If..” finishes:

    What you’re more likely to be suffering from is poverty, exhaustion and a deficient diet. You will have bills you can’t pay and a struggle to feed and clothe your kids.

    Which might well lead to the mental state x. Can anyone guess what x is in this context? I’ll give you a clue: it rhymes with “suppression”, begins with “d”, and is “depression”.

  8. 8  SW  May 18, 2010, 6:57 pm 

    Thanks Steve for this! I have decided to take your advice, pop two aspirin and not read the article. Still, gleaning what I can from your post, I did wonder a bit about her message. Underneath the brittle faux admiration for the toiling, persevering working classes is a message that they are, basically, mules. Heads bowed, swatting the flies from their flanks, they just get on it with the trudgery of their lot; they don’t have fancy-shmancy selves that can get snagged in the mire of depression’s ruminating negativity, they don’t have minds that can be overwhelmed and dulled, they don’t even have complicated brains that respond to the world around them; in short, they don’t suffer, they only experience the animal pain of the world.

  9. 9  Steven  May 19, 2010, 12:59 am 

    sw — bravo, absolutely.

  10. 10  ejh  May 22, 2010, 5:45 pm 

    Sarfraz Manzoor wrote much the same article for the Guardian a few years ago. I remember this, because I read it while on a prolonged period of sick leave due to stress.

    I like “relatively new ailment”, by the way.

  11. 11  Dan  May 25, 2010, 2:55 am 

    What an utterly obnoxious troll of a woman.

  12. 12  Jennifer  June 22, 2010, 1:07 am 

    Dan I couldn’t agree more – she’s phenomenally ugly on the inside as well as the outside. I found this website after a google search to see if anyone else had noticed how fascist she was being in certain comments she made on the otherwise highly enjoyable show ‘Grumpy Old Women’ First there was the tirade against the homeless, bragging about how she kicks off on them for asking for money – she sees it as trying to stake a claim on what she’s ‘worked for’ Then the comment about ‘fat people in supermarkets and how they put all kinds of crap in their trollies’ Apparently she wants to stand at checkout & police them! What a horrid excuse for a human being. I believe in universal karma…..

hit parade

    guardian articles

    older posts