During Mental Health Awareness week, the media is churning out articles with suggestions on individual steps to improve people’s wellbeing. But it is capitalism that is killing our mental health.
This week is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK. The theme this year is ‘kindness’.
With this comes the usual stream of pieces placing the burden of curing mental illness onto ourselves, individually. We see a barrage of articles suggesting how we can keep our screen time down; take a bubble bath; or be nice to each other, in order to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.
Such rhetoric, however, deliberately obscures how chronic underfunding of mental health services by the Tories has exacerbated the mental health crisis – a crisis already set in motion by the horrific conditions under which many are forced to live.
It is estimated that 1-in-4 people in the UK has experienced a mental health problem in the last year. It is likely that the real number is even higher.
Insecure and underpaid
When capitalism is in crisis, it is understandable that many would be led towards feelings of hopelessness or anxiety.
Mental health problems have steadily increased in the wake of the 2008 recession. The ruling class – and their mouthpieces in the media or academia – can no longer pretend that mental health problems are a mere result of ‘chemical imbalances’.
As a result, they have started to concede that material factors like poverty, debt, and feelings of alienation can (and do) exacerbate mental health issues.
It has now been found that being unemployed is likely to increase your chance of developing a mental health problem by 15%. Housing insecurity increases it by nearly 20%. In the coming period, this is only going to get worse.
The extension of the furlough scheme provides little relief to workers already on the minimum wage (incorrectly and euphemistically labelled as a ‘living’ wage by the Tories). After all, low-paid workers still somehow have to pay 100% of their rent and living costs with only 80% of their usual pay. It is also these most casualised and underpaid workers whose jobs are most at risk when the scheme comes to an end.
As the Tories have already made clear, it is the working class who will be made to pay for such pitiful concessions, through deepening austerity and attacks on conditions and public services.
Mental health funding has already seen 8% cuts year-on-year since 2011. After the pandemic, the NHS will be forced to pinch the pennies even more and make further cuts. Long waiting lists for limited ranges of therapy will become even longer.
We need fully funded mental health services to provide a range of treatments for mental health problems. But even these are merely a sticking plaster on a bullet wound.
Feelings of stability, empowerment, and contentment are vital to mental wellbeing. And these cannot be achieved within a capitalist system based on precarity, uncertainty, and a competitive race to the bottom.
Genuine mental wellbeing can only be guaranteed in a socialist economy – one in which workers are in control, and where resources like housing are allocated based on need, rather than being used to make profits for a small minority.
As capitalism enters a new and even more destructive epoch, it is becoming ever clearer that it cannot offer us ‘kindness’. Mental health problems cannot be cured simply through individual changes in behaviour. Collective, systemic problems require collective, systemic solutions.
We must demand fully-funded mental health services, and fight for an end to capitalism and the insecurity that it creates. This is the only way to solve the mental health crisis.