THE small Himalayan nation of Bhutan measures its wealth in terms of Gross National Happiness, rather than Gross Domestic Product – a stance, it has been suggested, which could be adopted by the Isle of Man.
It may seem idealistic – far-fetched even – but Professor Peter Kinderman, head of Clinical Psychology at Liverpool University, believes that creating a society where the well-being of its citizens is what drives its politics could have considerable economic benefits.
Professor Kinderman, who visited the island last week, is involved in a £25-million project being run by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), attached to Prime Minister David Cameron’s office, to develop a national well-being index, looking at quality of life, the environment and sustainability, as well as economic performance When one considers that mental illness, much of it due to stress, costs the UK £17 billion per year through absenteeism, benefit payments and the cost of treatment, it is easy to see why there are sound economic reasons for investing in the nation’s mental well-being.
‘Doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists are all concerned about the causes of ill health, but they need to be supported by the politicians,’ said Professor Kinderman.
He acknowledges the UK study will be a complex undertaking, but believes the results will be worthwhile: ‘The ONS programme to measure the nation’s well-being is a very positive, but very complex, exercise. To plan government policy purely on economic indicators such as gross domestic product seems inadequate, so the development of an additional index of well-being is wise.’
He was in the island at the invitation of chartered clinical psychologist Dr Helen Nightingale and had meetings with the DHSS psychology department and leading business executives and also addressed a well-attended public meeting at the Manx Legion Club organised by recruitment agency Ambitions.
He explained that, as a psychologist, he is particularly interested in mental health and is exploring the idea that maximising well-being may be as important as conventional treatment for mental health problems. He talked about the latest approach of prevention and early intervention based around a five-point strategy that incorporates physical exercise, mental activity such as learning a new skill, selfless giving, such as voluntary work, healthy personal and social relationships and the practice of mindfulness, which could link-in with cognitive behaviour therapy.
From his visit emerged a notion that the Isle of Man could be the perfect test-bed for such a study.
‘The island is unique and ideal,’ he believes. ‘The population is exactly the right size and you have a unified health service, which would make it much easier to coordinate than in the UK. It would be a great opportunity and the research would not only benefit the Isle of Man but the wider world.
‘If there is a feeling of general support for it, it could lead to a partnership between the Department of Health here and Liverpool University.’
On a final note, he had some advice for voters in the forthcoming General Election:
‘I would suggest that people be aware that your government is making political decisions that could affect your well-being and ask candidates what their views are on this.’