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Capitalism’s impact on mental health

Commentary by Jess Schwartz |
July 5, 2018
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A nurse and doctor at the Havana Psychiatric Hospital.
A nurse and doctor at the Havana Psychiatric Hospital.

New York, NY - On June 5, fashion designer Kate Spade died via suicide. Three days later, chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain also committed suicide. Along with his TV show, Bourdain was a supporter of Palestine and the #MeToo movement, as well as openly criticizing Henry Kissinger for his foreign policy.

Both cases resulted in a widespread, mainstream discussion about suicide and mental health, but the solution typically suggested is for individual people to seek help via suicide hotlines, going to therapy, and reaching out to friends and loved ones for help. While all of these may help someone in need at that moment, it doesn’t address the larger issues at hand. Here are just some of the ways in which the U.S.’s monopoly capitalist system affects workers here, as well as how inflicts mental harm upon its victims around the world.

Economic basis

Band-aid solutions to mental illness only help remedy the symptom, but do not address the system that is at the root of the problem. Capitalism creates conditions for mental illness and suicide to manifest. From a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, people earning less than $34,000 are 50% more likely to commit suicide, and unemployed people are 72 more likely to commit suicide than employed people. According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide rates are higher in rural areas, where Native Americans and Alaska Natives have the highest rates.

At the same time that capitalism reinforces mental illness, it also limits the accessibility to mental healthcare in the U.S. Over 6.3 million adults with mental illness are uninsured, and even those who are insured still face high costs, such as copays, treatment not covered by insurance, and providers who do not take insurance.

Treating the symptom, not the cause

The ability of working class and poor people to access adequate mental healthcare is limited by a lack of time outside of working hours, as well as an economic inability to afford treatment, even with health insurance. For those that do decide to seek treatment, the costs of such are high and the treatment is insufficient in the long term.

There is a motive for psychiatrists to prescribe medication instead of providing psychotherapy. According to Dr. Daniel Carlat of Tufts University, a psychiatrist can make two to four times more money by prescribing medication than providing therapy. While psychiatric medication can be a necessary aspect of mental health treatment, it is used in a system that prioritizes profit over people while forgoing longer-term treatment that addresses the individual’s particular conditions.

U.S. Imperialism’s effect on mental health

Along with conditions in the U.S. contributing to suicide, U.S. imperialism also is a major factor in mental illness and suicide. In May 2018, a Honduran man named Marco Antonio Munoz killed himself in a Texas jail cell after being separated from his family, who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Palestine, which is occupied by Israel with financial backing of the U.S., leads in the Middle East and North Africa region in depression and anxiety disorders, including in children.

Mental health under socialism

Where can we look to in order to find an alternative system to the U.S. healthcare system? Cuba is one example of how socialism can provide solutions to those suffering with mental illness.

According to Sandra Soca Lozano from the University of Havana, psychologists are incorporated into all aspects of healthcare, and psychologists and physicians work closely together. A psychologist will assess medical patients for contributing mental factors, and physicians will evaluate psychiatric patients to look for contributing physical conditions. Since no private organizations offer health services in Cuba, everyone has access to public care.

Due to the restrictions set on Cuba from the embargo, preventative care is emphasized for mental healthcare. This includes all Cubans having annual mental health screenings as part of their primary care (including home visits if unable to go to the office), the ability to access psychologists and physicians in their neighborhoods, and creating their own technology and techniques for detection of mental illness.

A more widespread discussion about mental health and suicide is a positive step, but discussion alone will not solve the problem. In order to fix the broken mental healthcare system, we must fight to overthrow capitalism and ensure that under socialism, everyone will have adequate access to mental healthcare and treatment.

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