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Mental health has become a major challenge in late modern societies. This chapter describes the scale of the challenge in the work context. It provides a background of the recent history on how psychological malaise and emotional distress have emerged as a central concern in the labour market. It provides a starting point to understand why the mental vitality and strength of the workforce has a far more psychological- and mental-health-focused character in current professional and non-professional culture than in earlier societies. This chapter concludes that to understand the recently arrived wave of mental health problems and mental fitness concerns among working populations we need to rethink the fundamental assumptions and interrelationships concerning psyche, emotions, work, disability and health. We also need to move away from dominating individualistic mental health frameworks and carefully analyse the role mental health plays in the current labour market and culture.

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This chapter focuses on the transformation of occupational health and the surge of mental health perspectives since the 1960s through three social arenas. First, this chapter analyses how the central paradigm of modern occupational health, work stress research, developed into a dominant perspective structuring wellbeing at work, and what kind of built-in assumptions it produced about psychological wellbeing and human characteristics. The second part of the chapter describes the emergence of psychosocial risks of work and mental health in media by analysing the largest newspaper in the Nordic countries and a widely circulated women’s magazine. It analyses how the problems of the psyche came to the fore in occupational health publicity when the problems of the middle class in working life grew and new challenges began to be identified. The third part summarizes key research findings derived from extensive interview data of occupational health professionals (especially doctors) with long-term work experience. These analyses show how changes in work conditions and occupational structure as well as the liberalization of reflexive psycho-emotional character fuelled the emergence of mental vulnerability in the medical practice.

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This chapter discusses the core nature of mental vulnerability through three groups of workers of late modern society: knowledge workers, young employees and female employees. They are often seen as problematic groups in studies of work disability related to mental health. First, the illusory autonomy of knowledge workers and the system-based nature of their workload are investigated and discussed. Second, the challenges of mental health and the typical characteristics of vulnerability among young working adults are analysed using extensive interview material. The cultural typology of mental health characters describes the sources and nature of mental vulnerability among them. At the end of the chapter, the role of gender as a watershed of mental vulnerability is analysed. According to the results, not only work conditions but the ways of emotional management vary according to sub-cultures of work. Due to the gendered structure of labour market and group-specific socio-emotional codes, the phenomenon viewed as mental health is quite different between men and women, both in terms of background and manifestation. The chapter illustrates how the foundation of mental vulnerability arises from different material and subjective frameworks, emphasizing its contextual nature.

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Employees of different historical periods experience working life and its challenges within their own working conditions and through their worldviews. In different occupations changes in work, cultural climate and employee ideals have taken place in various ways. This chapter discusses how the position of mental health, its understanding and coping with psycho-emotional difficulties has transformed during the post-war period and early 2000s in three different occupations. The analysis of insurance workers, teachers and social workers based on archival materials shows how mental vulnerability gradually gained a foothold. The analyses indicate that the history of occupations and the development of work ability/mental health are linked to broader economic and cultural change. Unique and diverse empirical materials describing the experiences of employees in different occupations also show how the challenges of the psycho-emotional life at work have developed through special professional trajectories and socio-cultural pathways. At the same time, they reflect the broader societal change, for example through transition in interaction norms, perceptions of wellbeing and evolvement of professional cultures.

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This chapter introduces the conceptual framework of the book. It describes how it is possible to analyse the diversifying challenges of the psyche as part of changes in work and culture without turning to the conventional understanding of mental health. It explains how mental vulnerability is embedded in the socio-historical behaviour and why it is important to include the perspective of social character/historically transformative subjectivity to the analysis of mental health crisis. The chapter also explains how the rapid transition from agricultural to late modern society in the Finnish labour market and culture can offer a unique empirical material for the analysis of surge of mental vulnerability in affluent societies in general. By placing mental health within the analytical scope of culture and institutional social action, the chapter formulates an alternative approach for the current conception of mental health focused on individual risks and symptoms. It suggests that it is essential to look at the possibilities, ideals and limits linked to the historically unique social behaviour when analysing the fuelling processes of mental vulnerability.

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Although mental vulnerability has a contextual and occupation-specific nature, it also arises from collective processes that are spread around the society. This chapter describes how a new societal framework of opportunities has emerged around subjective suffering and emotional discomfort. The analysis of emotional awareness and mental health literacy shows how individual-level behavioural virtues at the societal level may increase processing and recognition of mental vulnerability. After that, the texts reflects how the wounding of the psyche today can arise from the lack of resources – Scarcity Type 1 – as well as from the abundance of alternatives – Scarcity Type 2 – which makes it a complex phenomenon. Since the sources of current vulnerability often include both poor external conditions (for example, work demands) as well as the mobilization of new capacities (for example, subjective meaning), many older models of work disability and psychological distress are unable to grasp the current mental health challenge. For the future, it would be important to include the coordinates of historically changing subjectivity in the analysis and to consider how the social structures guiding health and emotional management can be better considered in research on work and wellbeing at work.

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This chapter describes the social history of mental health and pathology. Characterizing acedia, neurasthenia and manager disease, the chapter tells about the historical nature of mental vulnerabilities. Using the theory of epidemiological transition, the chapter explains popular views of demographers and population health scientists concerning the long-term change in health. Finally, the latter part of the chapter illustrates how the transformation of the essence of human character has influenced our socio-emotional management of life and the role of mental vulnerability in the map of social pathologies and distresses. Especially Alain Ehrenberg’s ideas on mental weariness and autonomous individuality are useful in this regard. The chapter provides history-driven tools through which current knowledge about mental health in the culture of work can be rethought and the long-term processes of mental vulnerability can be identified.

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A Socio-Historical and Cultural Analysis
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Since the 1960s, a major mental health crisis has emerged among Western working populations. By analysing the development of various occupational cultures and using extensive data sources, this book captures the history of mental vulnerability in working life.

Through a study spanning several decades, the book develops a new understanding of how mental vulnerability has evolved through changes to our working lives and socio-cultural being. It shows how our current knowledge about work, disability and the psyche is influenced by our time and provides intertwining conceptual frameworks and alternatives to current canonised knowledge about mental health in working life.

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The main analyses of the book reflect how the historical process of mental vulnerability has evolved. They indicate how we have moved from a working life determined by physical intensity and limited autonomy to a social and economic environment dominated by mental intensity, the problems of autonomous self and subjective scarcity. The chapter shows how different research strands can together produce new, innovative information on the new nature of wellbeing at work and, at the same time, its cultural diversity and contradictions. The chapter shows how mental health can be viewed as a social movement including various interest groups, commercial objectives and scientific paradigms. It argues that in the cultural setting of mental healthification various emotional and social challenges of life and work are dealt with through the framework of mental health and wellness-focused medicine. The chapter concludes that the recent extension of mental health contains various ritualistic features and culturally specific techniques that are produced in the activities of workplaces, healthcare, policy makers, reflexive citizens and other stakeholders. The history-informed analysis of mental vulnerability helps us to rethink social demands and cultural needs that influence our psycho-emotional life and generate new mental health practices.

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The objective of this chapter is to describe the critical approaches that have sought to address the growing concern for mental health and psychological wellbeing in culture. They are particularly related to psychologization and medicalization. As concepts, they outline how psychological and medical knowledge and related concepts and practices have increasingly begun to define work culture, work ability and everyday life, producing a vulnerable subject. The chapter analyses the extent to which these perspectives fit into the analysis of mental vulnerability related to work and employees. It concludes that when the spectrum of mental vulnerability is viewed from various perspectives of work, there has been a significant shift towards psychological and medical filters and solutions among both employees and professionals. However, without an understanding of fundamental change in the labour market and the historical transformation of social character in different locations of work culture, one easily ends up with a mechanical and overgeneralizing picture of the cultural surge of mental vulnerability.

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