Has the whole world gone mad?

I think the most worrying set of statistics I’ve seen this year have to be those referring to mental health, particularly amongst children. According to the most contemporary data from Office of National Statistics, 7.6 % of girls aged between 5 and 15 suffer from at least one form of mental illness. The figures for boys in the same age group are staggering - 11.4%! So almost 1 in 10 of the next generation have already been diagnosed with mental health issues, labelled ‘mad’ long before they’ve had a chance to emotionally develop and long before they’ve encountered all the horrors that modern capitalism has to offer.

The stats refer to considerable rises in cases of all major categories of disorders. However, as the question i want to try and answer is to what degree the rises in cases of mental health, can be attributed to objective factors, the rest of this article will focus on those disorders which i believe are most conditional on societies development (or not as the case may be)as a whole i.e behavioral(psychotic) and personality disorders. The statistics do also show that this is where we’ve seen the most rapid increases in cases over the last decade.

The first point that needs to be made about these types of disorders is that there is no clear understanding or consensus from psychlogists and psyciatrists on how to categorise these conditions, nevermind what actually causes them or effective treatment, especially for young sufferers.

Despite this lack of general agreement, there are a rich tapestry of theories, most now negated, which have led to the development of all manner of practices. Even today over a million people worldwide, per year are treated to regular doses of electroconvulsive therapy(where doctors pass electronic currents through the brain in an attempt to induce seizures in the vague hope that ‘positive effect’ outweighs ‘long-term negative side-effects’. In the 1940’s and 50’s electric shocks and other practices, equally bizarre and horrific were used to ‘treat’ everyone from mass murderers to homosexuals and the ’sexually corrupt’, although today it is mainly used to treat clinical depression, catatonia and schizophrenia in patients who haven’t responded to courses of cognitive therapy and drugs. The use of this outdated and irresponsible practice is simply a symptom of the contradiction between the relative lack of understanding of mental illness and funding into research and the expanding scope of the problem, for mental health professionals.

Psychiatry has progressed in many ways since the 40’s, however. Many sufferers of personality and behavioral disorders respond extremely well to cognitive therapy - which essentially boils down to guiding patients through there own thought processes and helping them understand where problems have originated from, and from there, developing a course of action which best suits the patient. It is now becoming increasingly rare for poorly educated GP’s to hand out dangerous anti-psychotic drugs to anyone showing symptoms, which could suggest potential schizophrenia. This doesnt mean, however that the problem has been sgnificantly eased by leaps foreward in technique. Rightly the favoured course of action for young patients is usually behavioral therapys and/or counselling. Unfortuatley this first stage of treatment which often includes processes which lead to diagnoses, are undertaken by under-paid, under-valued community psychiatric nurses with only limited training. Specialists, psychiatrists etc will only usually be called upon for the initial diagnosis and the prescription drugs if deemed necessary. Private sector protocols are more flimsy, still.

So its clear that the lack of adequate training in the NHS and the short-termism of the private sector are failing patients, but this alone can’t explain the endemic proportions of mental health problems in young people. So where does the blame lie? The Daily Mail calls it ‘a predictable symptom of the decay of moral fibre’, but i fail to see how a lack of morality, can lead to mental health issues. Government studies suggest that blame falls upon cannabis, alcohol and even tobacco - before long they’ll be blaming rock and roll and side-burns. I do agree with the Daily Mail (a first?) that the problem is predictable, although not in the way they insist.

Marxists will be familiar with his theory of alienation, used to describe a phenomenon in capitalist societies, whereby workers become detached from their own production and product of their labour, essentially and psychologically becoming a cog in the machine as their role in the workplace appears more and more meaningless. For the majority, those same processes are a reality of their place in wider society. Its not difficult to imagine the effects of that same objective reality on those not in work but conditioned by the very same socio-economic system, including those most at risk from emotional and behavior problems, 10-18 year olds.

Until recently psychologists on the whole agreed that emotional/behavioral disorders were due in the main to ‘genetic vulnerabilities’, arguing that certain people were pre-designed to be at risk. However in recent years, researchers have been forced into a re-think. According to wikipedia the most prominant opinion is now that disorders are caused by genetic vulnerablities ‘linking up with enviromental factors’. These are thought to include ‘employment problems, socioeconomic inequality, lack of social cohesion, problems linked to migration, social upheaval and features of particular societies and culture’. So neo-liberalism then? Private practices in the US have even begun to recommmend ‘Dialectical behavior therapy’ based on studying hegelian dialectics as a way for patients to better understand the processes which have led them to ‘mental illness’. However, due to the cost of developing dialecticians (and of course im talking about $’s not hours spent at cadre schools) this treatment is only available to the wealthy.

The question comes down to what we regard as factors and catalysts and what we determine to be the origin of the recent escalation of the problem.
Family life, bullying, stressful school enviroments, debt, low pay, unemployment, alienation from work etc are all factors and triggers but ultimately the mental health of a society will always be determined by its contradictions as percieved, consciously or not by those most effected by those contradictions i.e the working class and poor. In other words, the general decay of the capitalist mode of production and therefore modern society, is directly responsible for the worrying statistics which have politicians and newspaper editors alike pointing to scape-goats. Until there is a fundemental change in how society is run, the mental health of those at the age when we all begin coming to terms with society and our place in it, will reflect capitalisms, anarchy and decay.