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Conceptualizing work-related mental distress in the British coalfields (c.1900–1950)

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Vicky Long



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The history of occupational health is now an established and growing field of study, yet to date comparatively little research has been undertaken on the history of work-related mental health issues, which currently account for 40% of all work-related illnesses in the UK. Work-related stress is usually seen as a post-war and post-industrial phenomenon, largely confined to white collar and service sectors, which developed as a consequence of changing working cultures. However, through a close reading of diverse source sets generated by, or pertaining to, the coal industry, this article unearths another history of work-related mental health issues; a history focussing on a heavy industry in the early years of the twentieth century. Through this analysis, we argue that the heavy industries more typically associated with physical illnesses and disabilities also generated mental distress amongst their workers, which reflected the distinctive pressures of these working environments. The article explores how understandings of the mental distress experienced by miners were shaped by medical, political, economic, occupational and industrial factors, and generated debates between different organizations as to the cause of these disorders and appropriate responses. Further analysis of work-related mental disorders in different occupational sectors may allow researchers to tease out the nuanced role played by workplace environments and working practices on mental health, and to examine the relationship between physical and mental health at work.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Long V, Brown V

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Palgrave Communications

Year: 2018

Volume: 4

Online publication date: 06/11/2018

Acceptance date: 10/10/2018

Date deposited: 06/11/2018

ISSN (electronic): 2055-1045

Publisher: Springer Nature


DOI: 10.1057/s41599-018-0187-4


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Funder referenceFunder name
Wellcome Trust