I get really annoyed sometimes every time I watch TV or read some paper or hear somebody say, “Well, you know, so and so was carted off to the hospital with a nervous breakdown.”
Actually nervous breakdowns don’t exist. I mean, it’s not a real clinical term that you see a doctor putting down on a patient chart or filling out on someone’s insurance paperwork. It’s simply a popular term, which signifies a type of “acute episode.”
Typically, it means that symptoms of stress, anxiety or an underlying psych disorder lead someone to the point that they can no longer function and need urgent treatment. Usually, polite media will say stomach, or breathing problems ... exhaustion at best. Tabloid media will speculate otherwise.
Recently, I was reading a book by Hiromasa Ezoe, the ambitious former chairman at the center of the infamous Recruit scandal back in the late 1980s. His book, “Where’s The Justice?” is an attempt to win back public sympathy by portraying himself not as a crook, but a victim.
Like former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when his popularity was at an all-time low, the former president of TEPCO, and even a member of the royal family, he was carted off to a private suite at a top-level Japanese hospital, given a month of tests, recovery – and definitely relaxation out of arm’s reach of the media.
Ezoe himself described the severity of his symptoms, the hospital’s use of sulpiride to treat it, and the effects of good old-fashioned exercise.
Thinking about it, I started to wonder: during a white collar executive “breakdown,” what’s going on 1) at the company, and 2) inside the executive himself?
1 is easiest to answer – a lot of running around, covering up, meetings and paper shredding.
2 is a bit more complex.
The human sympathetic nervous system is aware that there is trouble and attempts to cope by having the adrenal glands produce extra hormones that give the body “oomph” to cope. Evolutionary wise, this boost would have given person the energy to fight or run away from a gigantic people eating reptile or whatever.
In modern times, the hormone is produced excessively, remains in the body and wreaks havoc. As this happens, the person may experience any number of symptoms, most commonly high blood pressure, weight gain, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, and dreadful GI problems.
A suppressed immune system also leaves the person susceptible to a wide array of bugs, plus there’s an inflammatory response that can add a wide variety of aches and pains. As a result of higher than normal blood pressure, there’s also an elevated risk of cardiac incidence and stroke.
These symptoms are managed with a combination of anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants. In theory, counseling or psychotherapy is called for, but here, physicians are less likely to refer patients for treatment – hence, rule out the sofa.
Left untreated, the person’s body is pushed further and further. As it happens, as part of a phenomenon known clinically as the “stress diathesis model,” any medical or psychiatric illnesses that the person was born with a genetic predisposition to may be more likely to surface.
For many of us who’ve ever worked at Japanese companies, there are countless stories of workers who one day became overwhelmed, went over the edge, and had to take a sudden leave, leaving their colleagues with lots of unwanted overtime work.
In the 1980s and '90s, especially, there was “karoshi” (death by overwork). Now, we read about suicides.
Train jumpers are faceless. High level executive officers aren’t.
Recent examples have included Lumine CEO Tetsujiro Tani, 61, found hanging by a riverbank in Tokyo's Katsushika ward; Hokkaido Railway Company President Noatoshi Nakajima, 64, found drowned after having left behind apparent suicide notes, and Warner Music CEO Takashi Yoshida, 48. They were all accomplished business leaders.
One theory is that individuals prone to suicide suffer from high levels of “neuroticism” – meaning that they’re simply more emotionally sensitive to the judgments of others. Successful CEOs who fight it until they finally wind up in prison are different. In a study of numerous executive level individuals -- some doing time for white-collar crimes -- it was found that many had personality traits almost identical to people with anti-social personality disorder – i.e., they’re psychopaths.
As for Olympus’s new CEO Shuichi Takayama, we might hope he’s a person who’s both a reformer and resilient in the face of stress. Who knows, maybe he’ll pull the company through, eventually be proclaimed Time’s Man of The Year, the Lee Iacocca, Steve Jobs or Jack Welch of modern Japanese industry. (Probably not.)
But if he needs some advice, I can refer him to the experts at Oprah.com, or a wide variety of self-help books that fill the shelves in the business and personal improvement sections in bookstores all over Tokyo. They’ll suggest plenty of rest, sensible nutrition, as well as implementing reasonable time and stress management strategies, maybe even yoga, acupuncture or aromatherapy.
Personally, all this just isn’t my bag. I’m more a Paul Goodman, Erich Fromm and Victor Frankl man. These guys suggested that there’s more in life to making money and being successful and if that is all that matters, once you lose it all, you will no longer have a reason to live. In contrast, they suggest finding deeper meaning from within, and when deprived of external happiness, trying to find meaning and growth in one’s pain and in the process trying to become more human.
Following this philosophy, it is clear that I will never be a corporate CEO and earn a significant amount of non-inheritable money. But even so, is there any sensibility in the value of one’s life coming down to the results on a quarterly report?
I can’t imagine this, and in the end, I can only pity anyone that does.© Japan Today