Capitalism & Mental Illness: Reflections on the Human Costs of Profit

Mental Illness & Capitalism, Industrial CityscapeProtected by the largest military in all of human history, the economic empire of the United States has grown into the most advanced capitalist system that ever existed. In spite of a relatively high standard of living & unprecedented wealth, the US has also managed to develop the world’s highest rates of mental illness. In 2009, the World Mental Health survey found 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.

Melancholy & the Marginalized
In the Gardens of the US Empire

Depression Prevalence, Mental Illness & Capitalism
Stolen shamelessly from mentalhelp.net ( FYI, suing me is likely to cost more than I’ll ever pay you… )

Although psychological well-being is a pretty complicated thing to measure ( especially on such large scales ), 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 income 1/3rd 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!

Poverty is a part of it — but it’s obviously not the whole story…

The Links Between Income Inequality, Marginalization, & Mental Health

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 environments, black & brown communities, & among women in general ( regardless of race ), all of which are historically among the most-exploited in capitalist modes of production.

Race, Poverty, & Mental Illness Under CapitalismExplaining why we observe such counter-intuitively high numbers of people in poor mental health at the very center of the wealthiest society in history does not take a particularly imaginative leap from here. And — since this is an opinion article & not a scholarly tome to submit to the sociological canon — it is well within my rights as a writer of very limited notoriety to make that leap…

The Result of Capitalism & Liberalism
Should Depress You

Late-stage capitalist societies — like ours 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.

Insanity of Capitalism, Alienation & Mental IlnessReal 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?
And are feelings of sadness, guilt, or anxiety inappropriate when tens of thousands of our human family members are killed by weapons manufactured just down the road from our homes?
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.

In solidarity,
John Laurits

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Thelma Follett
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The 1% = psychopaths –
but not so psychopathic that they don’t know a good thing when they see it which is that they can keep the 99% under control by assaulting their psyches with the evil they (1%) do in the world. Thus, constantly assaulting the 99% with media propaganda garbage (and real depravation) the 99% is rendered permanently depressed and powerless

Christy Hastings
Guest
Brilliant, as usual, John! Of course, certain mental illnesses are highly encouraged in our society (sociopaths in politics & business, for instance). You might want to check out research done in the ’60s in the UK (published in the Lancet). A major study looked at the incidence of heart attacks in civil servants (n=1 million). It revealed that a person’s PAY GRADE was what correlated (highly) with heart attacks. Not smoking. Not drinking. Not diet or weight. Not exercise. In fact, these things had NO correlations. They would be considered foot notes. Instead, it was how much CONTROL a person had in his/her job that strongly correlated with… Read more »
a Human being
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I agree with you almost completely, except for your statement “Granted this is not mental health.” Our physical and mental health are NOT mutually exclusive. In fact, they each depend on the another’s stability for their own, and They are so connected by all our senses, especially our “feelings”, that I believe EMOTIONAL stability is deeply involved, equally, one leg of a “three (at least!) legged stool” of a very complicated “system?” that permeates our complete bodies!?? This is my humble opinion, offered with no greater “facts” to support it than from my own experiences of one human life that spans more than seventy six (76) years on… Read more »
Christy Hastings
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‘Negative” feelings are a human interpretation of what is happening inside & outside our bodies. Our brains interpret things that make us uncomfortable as negative. However, these are just biological responses (hormones, neuro-transmitters, cytokines) to external & internal stimuli. We experience pain when burned. We then try to avoid being burned. It’s an important biologic reaction. But it’s not positive or negative. Humans are complex and the world has certainly become much more complex than the world our bodies evolved in. I separated “body & mind” just for discussing John’s excellent article, which was focusing on certain “mental illnesses”. Of course there is no real separation – just… Read more »
LaLa
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google: wetiko

MesaWinds
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Another aspect that’s here in the US and not so much in other countries is we have lots of prescription drugs in our water supply and fluoride in our tap water and everything else that we eat that has liquid in it. If we were to get heavy metal testing, we would be high in lead cadmium aluminum and Mercury. These and other toxins pesticides and chemicals such as from indoor air pollution & cleaning supplies has a lot to do with why people are having mental issues to the point of not being able to function. Ive noticed that there’s a higher prevalence of people on the… Read more »
MesaWinds
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This plus our food is depleted in nutrients. malnutrition plays a role. The poor can fill up at McDonald’s but the food is Monsanto weaponized

Diane
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On numerous occasions I have asked a young person working in a store a simple question and they appear to be in a semi mental trance and have to repeat the question not twice but sometimes 3 times for it to register. This in my opinion is environmentally en-doused by way of gmos which are know to cause a multitude of illnesses, fluoride is a neurotoxins, chem-trails full of aluminum and barium with effects on the brain, frequencies from smart meters, tvs, phones, microwaves effect a person’s mental status.

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