Wednesday 30 November 2011
That Other Crisis
You may have noticed my posts about the disastrous effects of the increasing inequality in Britain. Looking about you, if you are fortunate to have a good job and decent prospects, things might not look so bad from your perspective!
However, there is something going on that testifies to the growing despair and disappointment in this unfair land. There is another crisis, infinitely more heart-rending than the economic one. I refer to the massive growth in mental illness and the numbers of people receiving treatment for depression, bi-polar disorder and anxiety. The rises in these conditions are chilling and nowhere more so than among children. Channel 4 has uncovered that the number of children, some as young as 5, on anti-psychotic drugs has doubled in the past ten years. It is reported here:
Viewed overall, the picture is even more alarming: http://www.langmaidpractice.com/?attachment_id=4329
Only the Americans have higher incidence of mental distress than we do – and their inequality is even higher than ours!
- 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year
- Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain
- Women are more likely to have been treated for a mental health problem than men
- About 10% of children have a mental health problem at any one time
- Depression affects 1 in 5 older people
- Suicides rates show that British men are three times as likely to die by suicide than British women
- Self-harm statistics for the UK show one of the highest rates in Europe: 400 per 100,000 population
- Only 1 in 10 prisoners has no mental disorder
There are in my view two drivers of this growth in mental distress, the first is successful attempts by the pharmaceutical companies to medicalise ordinary conditions: ADHD in children is a good case in point, while all mental ‘disorders’ among adults have grown phenomenally, partly due to extensions in the symptoms permitted for diagnosis of the illnesses. The point here is that the medicines that people take for these newly diagnosed conditions make them worse in the long run. [‘Anatomy of an Epidemic’, Whitaker R].
The other, a more insidious influence, arises from the neo-conservative doctrines of personal responsibility – in other words, if you feel really bad, mad, scared or hostile – it isn’t the state or society’s responsibility – it’s your own fault. The fact that these feelings are magnified if you are poor, live in derelict conditions, can’t afford to pay for food, rent and heating while you read of men with £4million pay packets – doesn’t count.
It would be unsurprising to feel depressed, anxious and freaked out when you combine these factors with the feeling that no one represents you or cares about you. This sort of despair surely contributed to the double suicide of the Mullins’s in the Midlands who could not face another winter on handouts while struggling to be recognized as deserving of support. As someone who regularly gave them food parcels said:
“We’re living in a time when people are desperate, and these people weren’t scroungers, weren’t out stealing.
“They were trying to do the right thing, they were trying to do it the right way, and it seems like every corner they turned, they were met with a different obstacle.”
The BBC among others reported the Mullins’s case: http://tiny.cc/bfrox
But this is not just an individual exception: the number of people who trust Government is at an all time low:
This chart comes from a study we conducted with partners 2CV just before the 2005 election. Trust is particularly low among ethnic minorities who – you guessed it – suffer more mental illness.
I cannot believe it has got any better. Since then we’ve had the financial crisis and the MP’s expenses scandal. Just yesterday (Nov 29th 2011), the Chancellor of the Exchequer reported failure of the austerity strategy imposed by the coalition government: not only is a double dip recession imminent and growth stalled, but public borrowing or the defecit is certain to increase. So we are bearing all these cuts and STILL GOING INTO GREATER DEBT. [See Will Hutton in the Observer or Paul Krugman in the New York Times for alternative solutions].
The fact that the poor suffer twice as much mental illness as any other group doesn’t seem to matter. They need to pull themselves together – or take the pills.
The cost of taking the pills is truly astronomic. You are likely to shorten your life by years if you stay on these medicines: at best they offer only short-term relief. At worst they increase your chances of diabetes, losing your job because you are too numb to function, heart disease and obesity. Add this to the bad diet that many low paid people eat and you have a lethal cocktail. The growing evidence of the harm done by these psychotropic medicines is described in detail here: http://tiny.cc/kv4rb
I do not make these claims lightly, alongside inequality the increasing incidence of mental distress and inability to function while on medication is the other great corrosive of morale in our communities.
There is both an economic and an emotional ecology in every one of us and these two things are not separate, they are related. The cost of recession is not financial alone, the price in human suffering and misery is greater than the bill for even the most extravagant borrowing!
Posted by roy at 6:00 am. 2 comments
Qualitative work was founded on the idea of making contact with people in greater depth. This website contains ideas, tips and techniques on how to do that well. It also contains things that I feel passionately about which affect our daily lives!
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