Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Capitalism, mental well-being and alienation

In spite of a relatively high standard of living and unprecedented wealth, the US has also managed to develop the world’s highest rates of mental illness

In 2009, the World Mental Health surveyfound the US at the bottom of world mental health chart with 47.4% — almost half of the population — displaying symptoms of a mental disorder. 

According to the massive WMH survey, nearly 1 in 3 US citizens struggle with anxiety disorders and a bit more than 1 in 5 suffer from depression, bi-polar, or other mood disorders.

Research on depression in the US clearly shows that looking for areas of high poverty will show you areas with high rates of depression. Being poor is, of course, an excellent reason to feel sad but, if poverty caused widespread depression, we would find the highest rates of depression in the poorest places. And that is not what we find. The prevalence of mental illness in Mexico, a country with a per-person income1/3rd of that in the USA, was just 26% according to the same WHM study — and symptoms of poor mental health affect only 12% of Nigerians, who earn a mere 1/10th of what people in the US do!

Other studies show a strong correlation between high income-inequality & rates of mental illness — particularly the depressive disorders. This is true at an international level, as well as the level of individual counties & US states. Symptoms of mental health disorders are reported at higher rates in densely populated urban environmentsblack & brown communities, & among women in general ( regardless of race ), all of which are historically among the most-exploited in capitalist modes of production.

Capitalist societies — like in the United States — clearly produce the ideal environment for mass psychological — or, if I may use a less-popular word — spiritual crisis. This analysis is not new — Marx himself predicted capitalism would result in these kinds of crises. This is called alienation. He believed our species-essence was not just to obtain food, water, shelter, & sex but also to produce or co-create the world around them. And the free choice to make their world by their own labor fulfilled the human being’s species-essence. Since, under capitalism, the value of a person’s labor is extracted by whoever owns the tools & materials used to create our environments, he predicted we would become increasingly alienated from our lives & dissociated from the society around us.

We would feel disconnected from the things we do because we did not choose to do them.

Real mental health disorders do exist, of course. But — as someone who was diagnosed with a number of them at a young age — I wonder if many of our so-called dysfunctions, both my own & those of others around me, are really just the appropriate & completely sane reaction to a set of insane circumstances.

After all — why would I not feel a deep sense of tragedy when confronted by the fact that my country is dragging our ecosystem into a chasm of irreversible climate change?
 And should people not be kept up at night by anxiety or vague, urgent, instincts that something is deeply wrong with how all of us are expected to get up, clock in at work, come home, watch TV, drink, consume, & repeat?

 Is a person truly “sick” because they become convinced this is not at all how it is supposed to be or that their reality is being shaped by irrational forces beyond their knowledge & control?

These are important questions to consider — because maybe they’re right. Maybe, like Alice finding herself suddenly in Wonderland, it really is the world — not them — that has gone insane.

Taken from here 


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