Mental Health a Capitalist Story

Posted: January 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

OK, a light start to the new year, let’s talk about mental health conditions and how they are getting worse.

There have been theorists since the industrial revolution, Marx, Engels, Durkheim, Rowntree and more who say that actually the vast majority of mental health conditions are caused by capitalism. Now this might seem like it is an outdated argument, since we are centuries into capitalism in Britain and it has not sent everyone round the bend. Well, there are still theorists suggesting the opposite of this is in fact true. Thomas Szasz is one, after qualifying for his MD he became a psychiatrist, became instantly disillusioned and switched to psychology, devoting much of his career to exposing the evils of psychiatry.

The basic theory suggests that the pressures of working for someone else without seeing the full benefit and working in an oppressive system, designed to keep people ‘down’ increases the pressure of life to an intolerable level. This used to be dealt with in the home and by spending time with the family. As the modern world evolved however, this went further and further away from being the case. As entire family units are forced to work to maintain a lifestyle and children are spending more and more time in daycare, the pressure of work life is no longer relieved by home life, if anything, people are now suggesting it actually increases it as capitalism infiltrates here as well.

There are a few suggestions that can reinforce this, if you will just bear with me. When you start out, you get a really bad job, even with a degree, you are not going to be doing your dream job. So, you spend your first few years working towards a goal job. You have a boss who has already been through their junior position and tells you what to do. The pressure in this situation starts in not doing something that fulfils you and makes you happy. You also get oppressed by making more money than you received in your position. You receive the pressure of oppression from your direct boss and the system itself and so on. There is no fulfilment in working for a company that does not value you and this pressure can lead to depression, personality disorders and massive amounts of cognitive dissonance.

The other pressures in capitalism are more every-day. There are not many parents out there that do not dread Christmas for instance, they know they are going to face being asked for things they cannot afford because of an extremely elaborate and expensive advertisement campaign for the latest toy, games console, TV, DVD boxset etc. This creates an unhappiness in knowing that the parent cannot provide everything the child needs and actually, the nature of the advertisement and social pressure placed on the child to own this thing, whatever it is, mean they genuinely feel they need it. This creates the illusion in the parents psyche that they are not providing enough. Add in the illusion, that a good parent should be able to moderate their children’s behaviour, there is no right answer, other than to buy what you can and be happy with it.

The pressure placed on people to own a house, own a car, own a good house and good car and everything else we feel we “must have” means that for something to have value, some people must be able to have it and some people must not. Otherwise, having it is worthless. This is the same with work, some people need to be out of work for work itself to be valued. Beyond that however within a capitalist system, there need to be a floating unemployed who can fill gaps in the market as they arise and be sacked when the market cannot afford them. This means that there are always going to be unemployed in this system. This also means that some people, to get the things they feel they need, resort to crime and other behaviour which also causes ill feeling and mental distress. Some people not getting these things, makes them mentally ill. Some people feel the pressure of this and have breakdowns. Some people get jealous and hurt other things to get the things they feel they need. Some people get the things they need, realise it was not the thing they needed at all and become disillusioned. Some people reach the top, realise that it is shallow and retire to a hut in the woods.

All of these things and others mean mental distress and pressure. All of these things lead to depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, violence, greed, jealousy, mugging, robbery and even rape can be explained by the pressures faced by subjects of capitalism. All of these mental strains result in a great number of the mental health issues that are massively increased in western cultures. These illnesses are described as abnormalities by the medical model and there is a well documented history by people like Foucault of these situations, where actually what was being diagnosed was not mental illness but ‘not fitting in and being a good capitalist/ consumer’. If you consider for a moment the resultant effects of depression, it appears to be laziness, introspective behaviour, reduced involvement in society, seclusion, low self worth and all of these things mean the person is less likely to feel fulfilled by their minimum wage job and much less likely to feel the need to buy the latest anything as they feel they do not deserve it. In psychiatry, there used to be a condition called hysteria. This was a condition suffered by women only and was essentially diagnosable as, a woman who doesn’t fulfil her gender stereotyped role. So, not being womany enough! Seriously, this was a condition and when was it taken out of the American diagnostic manual? 1800? Nope. 1900? Nope. It was 1970. Be under no illusion, a great many mental health conditions are caused by a corrupt system designed to keep people down. Once they realised this, it was used as a form of social control and once the condition could account for non-capitalist behaviour, then that became the scapegoat. Anyone who did not feel the urge to impulse buy and chase promotion was mentally ill, anyone who wasn’t was too scared of being diagnosed abnormal to alter their behaviour from the norm. And here we are…..


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