Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The system , it's mental , it is

Transcript of interview on the BBC radio Today Programme between John Humphrey's and Dr Lynne Friedl, author of the World Health Organisation's report "Mental Health, Resilience, and Inequalities"

LF: The big silence is about which of the communities who bear the brunt of depression, anxiety - and those are the poorest communities. So there is something that government can do, and that is to tackle poverty and to reduce inequality. If we ask what actually influences your mental health, it's the quality of human relationships; what influences the mental health of children, it's the quality of human relationships - in the home, in the schools

JH: But government can't do anything about that

LF: The government can do an enormous amount about that

JH: About our human relationships, how people relate to each other?

LF: Yes, because how we relate to each other is fundamentally influenced by things like poverty, and the gap between...

JH: Is it!?

LF: Yes it is. If you've struggled to make ends meet, if you are living in a society in which you are constantly of no account, you don't have a voice, you have low status - living in poverty is a huge struggle, but it's more of a struggle in a context where you have very little, and other people have a huge amount.

JH: But hasn't society always been - it's regrettable, nobody wants it to happen - but that is the way society is, there will always be people who are better off than other people - and people, therefore, who are worse off than other people.

LF: That's the case, but what we've seen over the past 30 years is a huge increase in the levels of inequality. ANd now what we're facing is not just an economic recession, which is one response to that, but a social recession. If we don't grasp the psychological impact of the big gap between rich and poor, we will not have any impact on depression and anxiety.

JH: So it is to do with relative wealth - so in other words, we might be, compared with our fathers, our grandfathers, our great grandfathers - we might be terribly well off. But if the person next door is much - or the person in the next street is much much richer than us, that'll make us depressed. Is that what you're saying

LF: Exactly so, that's what the statistics suggest.

JH: But isn't that called ... life?

LF: Umm - well it depends whether you think injustice is something you think we should just lie back and put up with...

JH: Why is it unjust that some people are better off than other people. Why is that necessarily inherently unjust?

LF: It's unjust when whole communitites don't have any chance of sharing the positive benefits of society, when people are excluded from good education, from decent housing, from well-paid jobs. The level of difference in people's life chances has reached extraordinary proportions. And the psychological consequences of that are very profound. Every parent knows - the first thing a child learns to say after 'no' is 'it's not fair'. And we then spend the rest of our time trying to persuade children to adapt to injustice. It can't be done. We have to tackle injustice if we're serious about mental health. The evidence is overwhelming.

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