Mental Health Crisis: The Role Of Capitalism


While mental health treatment, the examination and defining of specific problems, is still a rudimentary art, the most quantifiable outcome of mental illness is seen when a person chooses to end their own life. Unfortunately, psychologists still hold differing opinions on the source of mental health problems in modern society. This report examines how capitalism may play a role and how it affects men, women, and teenagers.

 

MEN

The new system of work in the tertiary sector is one of many different reasons behind the recent crisis in masculinity. Office work is a move away from the typical “manly” work of previous generations which included more manual work, this has become ingrained in popular culture as a mandatory aspect of masculinity. As this aspect is unfulfilled we can see men overcompensating in what Mark Simpson labels the “spornosexual.” This phenomenon is demonstrated by the increase in gym memberships and supplement products, as men have become increasingly muscular, bearded and tattooed. A similar phenomenon is the “lumbersexual”, as men have attempted to embody a lost and idealized era of masculinity through the appearance of being a rugged outdoorsman.

If it is not the change in work structure, capitalism’s effect on mental health also afflicts those left without work. Typically this is either due to an outdated skill set, or lack of available work. As a result, this has challenged the notion of masculinity through feelings of emasculation during economic downturns. During these times men feel unable to provide for their families and play the traditional “breadwinner” role. This feeling of “not being a man” could be a reason for the dramatic growth in the number of male suicides. Suicide is becoming the biggest cause of death for men in the UK under the age of 45.

 

WOMEN

The Office of National Statistics has recorded the ratio of female suicide in UK at 5.4 for every 100,000 individuals. This is an increase from previous years; the age range most at risk being middle aged women. This is a result of women having to juggle family responsibilities, looking after elderly relatives, and a career competing with male colleagues. However, it will not be long before statistics show a rise in young women between late 20’s to mid 30’s as women will feel increasingly stressed in careers. Despite feminist thought and advancements in reproductive technology, women will still feel the pressure of the “biological clock” in having a family and conforming to a traditional notion of femininity through motherhood. This can already be seen in China with the increase of “leftover women” a return to the idea of “spinsters.” Those who remain single at 30 are thought to remain so, as they have past their attractive years beyond 20 and will be unable to “catch” a male partner.

This example shows the continual battle between modernity and tradition, with women who focus on their career and education facing stigma from close family for having less development in other areas of life. It also shows that women are torn between performing two exhausting roles, compared to a man’s singular role. A man is able to focus on his career without stigma, whilst a woman must not only focus on her career, her consciousness is aware of other obligations that a man is unaware of, such as everyday sexism and barriers in day-to-day life.

 

TEENAGERS

The main crisis facing the younger generation is one of mental health. Unlike previous generations, Millennials do not smoke or drink and have access to better healthcare. Then why is it that more young adults are killing themselves than ever before? Since 1986, suicide rates in all demographics have increased, however, a study from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has shown an over 30% increase in the suicide rate of women aged 15-24. This increase has been shown by the rise of the “Blue Whale Game”, a social media phenomenon that encourages participants to engage increasingly dangerous acts of self-harm and eventually leads up to suicide.

The predominant cause of this increase is the influence of social media. Social media commodifies areas of life and human interaction that were previously private or had limited exposure. This includes the quantifying of how many friends someone has, a number of likes, retweets and shares they can acquire, and exposing aspects of daily life with a cyber community. An extreme repercussion of this has been an increase cyberbullying. Approximately 43% of adolescents have experienced cyber bullying according to the Megan Meier Foundation. Social media creates a culture of comparison; people judge their happiness based upon the posts of other and whether they are living an interesting enough life based on the number of followers or likes. For individuals who fail to fulfil these criteria and do not recognize that social media posts are unrealistic images of someone’s life, they can feel like a failure.

This is increasingly problematic as the younger generation is able to follow and look into the “real life” of their favourite celebrities through social media. The Western world’s adoration of celebrities and celebrity culture has already been damaging to the younger generation. However, with social media, celebrities carefully and meticulously portray a representation of their life, based on their public image and persona. Younger viewers believe it to be true and place these celebrities on an even higher pedestal. Acknowledging this, companies utilize this medium in order to sell products to the younger generation as a mean of achieving this utopian celebrity lifestyle.

In conclusion, there are no signs of structural economic change in the immediate future and capitalism seems to be here to stay. This means we cannot rely on structural solutions to the effects of capitalism on mental health. Instead, the only solution appears internal: people must acknowledge and mitigate the effects that capitalism has on their self-worth and health.

Ross Field

Currently studying a MSc in Security Studies at University College London