By Gregory Morse
Over the past few decades, ordinary people have experienced enormous levels of economic and psychological stress, caused by a rise in foreclosures and evictions, corporatized “education” of children and young adults, and rampant imperialism overseas that has targeted mostly non-violent people. We live within a social and economic system that benefits a small minority of elites at the expense of the rest of us: the working class (or robbed class, if you may say so).
The intensified stress levels have manifested themselves through increases in homophobia, sexism, and racism— as demonstrated by alarming rises in arrest and prison population statistics. Likewise, the rates of mental illness and serious depression have also increased. This has been especially true since the financial crash at the end of 2008. Sadly, these high rates of depression, anxiety and a whole range of other mental illnesses mean there are high rates of risky behavior such as drug use and alcoholism, domestic abuse, and even suicide. U.S. capitalism deals with mental illness by prescribing an endless array of psychotropic drugs to treat a wide range of symptoms including anxiety, depression, Asperger’s syndrome, shyness, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder and others.
The drugs used are endless. They include Nortriptyline, Dexedrine, Paxil, Prozac, Klonopin, Ritalin, Adderall, and many others. These drugs swell the profits of the drug industry, but they are often ineffective in helping to cure the individuals who take them. Despite this, physicians continue to prescribe those medications that swell the profits of the already massively profitable pharmaceutical industries, but this only results in bandaging a gaping wound without confronting the deep and complex social issues that cause these problems. By focusing entirely on the individual’s “problems,” society reinforces our American and Western-dominated mentality people should “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.” That is, if we work hard, we will achieve anything, and if we don’t, our problems are entirely our own fault. This mentality clearly does not help people who have mental illness due to factors outside of their control.
One of those factors is related to the growing militarism of our society. In 2011, 164 U.S. soldiers committed suicide, and only slightly less were committed in 2010 and in 2009. The Pentagon and the media avoid mentioning these suicides, because to acknowledge these deaths is to acknowledge how dehumanizing war is. The U.S. rushed into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now the government cannot control or even admit to the resulting crisis.
Mental illness and depression are not limited to military personnel, however; it is hard not to meet someone going through their own personal stresses and struggles. I am personally a young man who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as a kid. Having a label you are given by the system is in itself a struggle. For me, this meant that I had a hard time in school and also in making friends and establishing relationships. Often, the medication I took enhanced my social anxiety disorder. Like many mentally ill and depressed people, I have been afraid to ask for help I needed. I have been wading through numerous unsatisfying jobs I knew were beneath my abilities and feeling like a failure in not living up to expectations I felt I could achieve but didn’t. It is easy for me to be overwhelmed with stress at times.
As a socialist, I believe there are important immediate steps that can be taken to deal with mental health issues. One solution is to implement a single-payer health care system immediately. Within that single-payer system, mental health should be as urgent as all other health care issues and studied for its complexities. The stigma surrounding depression and mental health problems must end. It is completely unacceptable that suicide exists at all.
As a movement, Occupy must treat mental health seriously, despite our political differences. Nobody should ever feel discriminated against because of their race, sexual orientation, or their mental or physical abilities. Nevertheless, I would argue that only when capitalism has been overthrown can we resolve the social and economic problems that precipitate or intensify most mental illness and depression in society today.
By Gregory Morse