Across the globe, we are facing a mental health crisis. This is a result of our political systems but is also altering them insidious ways. While the mental health crisis exists across the globe, it is particularly prevalent in twenty-first century Britain.
Many aspects of the lives of modern Britons are deeply unstable. The current nature of our economy has resulted in a lack of security for many people. It is unsurprising that this impacts on mental health. Increased rates of anxiety are inextricably linked with an economic system that is in constant fluctuation, threatening to undermine people’s livelihoods at a moment’s notice. It was only a matter of time before this had consequences on our political life.
A nation of people in a state of anxiety over their future will undoubtedly result in politics that is more radical than previously. The intention of this article is not to over-simplify the causes of the mental health crisis, nor its impact. It is simply attempting to connect the dots between a rapidly increasing proportion of people that suffer with poor mental health and a general desire across society for change.
Within a capitalist system, profit is sacred. Every day, people are racked with an endless avalanche of bills and expenses. With gas prices on the rise, this fact of life shows no sign of letting up. Living in a society where everything is commoditised is not conducive to a happy life.
The instability of modern markets can also be damaging to our mental health. Globalisation has resulted in problems such as a flight of capital; investors are taking their money, and crucially their manufacturing, elsewhere in order to pay lower wages and capitalise on profits. With the cost of many goods still high, and a loss in manufacturing jobs, rates of debt are soaring. UK households overspent on average £900 last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. Household debt is ‘worse than at any time on record’. Secondarily, a rise in insecure employment and zero-hours contract put employees and small business owners at ongoing risk.
Rather than combat the causes of economic crises, we are encouraged to blame people and institutions that categorically did not cause them. Institutions such as the welfare state are held responsible and attacked – deepening the crisis. Without an adequate social safety net, those hit hardest by the system can be harmed irreparably, and struggling families are forced to borrow just to buy necessities.
Considering the insecure and increasingly gloomy economic prospects for many, it is no wonder people are disheartened by a society where we are valued based on our financial status. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the youth. The Prince’s Trust Macquarie Youth Index Report for 2018 discovered that young people’s happiness and confidence are at the lowest levels since the study began, mostly due to ‘concerns about their job prospects’.
Furthermore, use of anti-depressants has skyrocketed in the UK. In 2016, the NHS dispensed anti-depressants on 64.7 million occasions, more than double that of 2006. Even more disturbingly, suicide is now the leading cause of death among men aged 20-49. It is important that we continue our progress in medical recognition of these issues, which are often not treated with such severity as physical illnesses, and this can result in isolation of sufferers. However, we must also begin to challenge the external causes of the mental health crisis. These alarming statistics highlight the scope of the problem, which must be tackled across society as a whole.
People who are anxious about their future will become desperate, and they are not wrong to be. To continue a socio-economic model, completely unchanged, which has destructive consequences would be unforgivable. Generously putting moral issues aside, the current model is unsustainable. Nonetheless, some of the reactions across the western world have been misguided. The meteoric rise of figures such as Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump, or parties such as UKIP or Alternative for Germany (AfD), have fed on the anxiety felt across society. Rather than devoting their collective effort to the material issues that plague us, reactionary populists have fixated on emotive issues and tribal instincts. This is at best completely misguided, and at worst – outright malicious.
The mental health crisis should be ringing alarm bells. If, as a society, we are producing generations of increasingly anxious and depressed people, we are clearly doing something wrong. Nobody has all the answers when it comes to complex issues such as the mental health crisis. Not all the causes of our societal anxiety are listed here, nor the consequences. Change is both possible and realistic.
However, as we have already established, not all change is progress. Change, when it comes in the form of Le Pen, Trump or Farage (to name but a few) is regressive and does nothing to improve day to day life. On the other hand, if we directly challenge our greatest problems, such as housing, insecure work and falling living standards, this would be a huge step towards helping those who are most desperate.