Mental health has been dubbed an international crisis for years, with the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the already bubbling volcano of anxiety, depression, and other stressors. The World Health Organisation has acknowledged that mental health must be considered when looking at global development goals with conditions such as depression recognised as a leading cause of disability. What could be behind the shocking statistics and data that inform us of the world’s mental health crisis?
Misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, xenophobia, classism, ableism and other forms of oppression have a devastating effect on those affected. One particularly prevailing form of social inequality is the oppression of Black people and people of colour. Many from second- and third-generation immigrant backgrounds despite having full citizenship find themselves being told to “go back home”; a racist chant that has, tragically, lasted for decades. Suicides in the UK linked to individuals having their welfare support cut or sanctioned, the self-harm and suicidal ideation of LGBTQ+ youth globally and rates of depression and other mental health disorders amongst disabled people demonstrate how social inequality plays a key role in exacerbating the crisis.
Linked to social inequality but undeniably its own monster, economic inequality has destructive consequences upon people’s mental health. Austerity in the UK, the disparities of the wealthy and the poor in America and widespread poverty in Europe means millions of individuals and communities are denied access to services, support and resources. An individual seeking help in Britain for mental health issues often finds themselves on waiting lists that span years or are given a 6-week CBT course that, for trauma survivors and for certain mental health conditions, are simply not enough. There is no Harley Street psychotherapist option for the working classes or even lower middle classes, with aggressive and hostile capitalist cultures and companies meaning the average working person has no time, money or energy to pursue the expensive care they need.
Lack of services, understanding and differentiation
Whether it’s arguing with insurance companies in the USA over what you’re entitled to, having no health insurance at all, or attempting to find a suitable therapy course in the UK, it’s clear that the majority of governments do not invest adequately in mental health resources. Underfunded, understaffed and oversubscribed, mental health wards and services are unable to meet demand with governments paying lip service to the topic of ‘mental health’ rather than actually funding it. Individuals are left waiting for months if not years for help, or, given inappropriate therapy to meet their needs such as a short 6–8-week course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) given to someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), a trauma-based disorder that requires far more intensive treatment. Not all therapy is suitable for every mental health difference and yet the most basic and the fastest types of therapy are frequently the only ones offered, with ill people having to fight and advocate for their needs at every turn.
Disconnect with nature and the natural world
Scientific studies have been looking at the power of nature when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. Cultures across the world celebrate nature and consider it a part of their own lives. In the West, particularly America and Britain, we are disconnected from this natural world. Political journalist Isabel Hardman invites us to consider the idea of the ‘Natural Health Service’ in which nature can be an addition to our mental health self-care toolkit. Activities such as walking through parks, the woods, wild swimming, bird watching, foraging and more have been shown to have enormous positive effects from reducing cortisol (stress) levels to connecting people to a gigantic ecosystem that extends far beyond the worries in our heads.
There is no easy, or cheap, answer to solving the mental health crisis of today. Centre-right and right-wing governments that prioritise capitalism, austerity and economic fiscality are highly unlikely to ever address the key reasons for the crisis. It begs the question, what damage will this crisis have to do before governments relent? Capitalism is not just an economic system but a culture, deeply embedded into American and British psyches. Many are beginning to question and move away from such a mindset, especially younger millennials and Gen Z ‘Zoomers’. Perhaps a youthquake will shake the shackles off and finally revolutionise our world, making mental health care a priority. Only time will tell.