Mental Health, Modern Society, and Individualisation

I love teaching. I truly love teaching and helping people to
grow. Education and edification are two of the most
important things in the world to me. So, in a sense, you could say that I love
my work. But I hate needing to work. I hate being financially obliged to participate
in a system of unchallenged hierarchical relations, which is the direct result of the global economic
system within which we find ourselves. I hate that I don’t get to be there for my
new-born baby niece, except when it’s convenient for business (in the evenings and the weekends,
maybe, if I don’t have extra work to do). I hate not being able to spend time with my
wife. With my friends. To travel. To write books. To potentially develop artistically in areas
that won’t lead directly to financial gains. Now you might be one of those people who says
“Ah well, why don’t you just not work? Why don’t you just pursue your passion projects
instead? Why not just do art, if that’s what you love
so much?” But then how would I pay my bills? How would I pay my rent? My mortgage? For transportation? For a car? For the bus? How would I pay for electricity? For food? How could I participate in modern society? In essence, how could I live? If the choice is between working proletarian
alienation and absolute destitution, then the former is, of course, always going to
win. Hey, you there, if you’re new here, please
“Subscribe to Paul’s channel – he loves that! He’s just, like, joking around, but he really
wants subscribers. It’s because he’s broke, you know?! It actually really, really helps me out. You could do a little like, and subscribe,
and even hit that little bell guy there; it really, really helps things out for me. Please, please, please. Just a quick content warning for this video
because we will be discussing mental illness in pretty graphic detail here. I’ll be giving my own personal experience,
so just a little heads-up for anyone who might be a little bit more sensitive to these kinds
of issues. I mentioned earlier this sense of working
alienation, and I must admit that this has actually had a pretty strong impact on my
own mental health. So I had a class observation last week, that’s
where your boss sits in on your class for 45 minutes to one hour and they rate your
performance on a number of different metrics. This isn’t super easy to admit on YouTube
where everyone can see this, but I had a pretty severe panic attack the day before my observation. I found myself overcome with a palpitating
heart, faintness, an irrational but overwhelming sense of utter trepidation, depersonalisation,
dysphoria… These were just some of the symptoms I was
experiencing in response to my working conditions. And, of course, I was just totally catastrophizing
the situation, but the point is that I know I’m far from the only one who has ever felt
this way about their work. And, all things considered, I actually have
a pretty nice job with a very kind boss, so I can only imagine what it’s like for people
who have a really callous boss or manager and have to experience these awful days on
a regular basis. So if I’m having this awful experience in
these pretty good conditions, then what’s it going to be like for people who have really,
really difficult working conditions? Like most people do. So maybe we need to start thinking about other
ways of doing things. Let’s say we were members of democratically
run worker co-ops, rather than standard top-down, hierarchically controlled businesses that
we’re used to; well, if that were the case, then we wouldn’t need to rely on the approval
of any supposed superiors (such as bosses, managers, CEOs, etc.) in order to guarantee
our salaries, our participation in modern society, and, by extension, our very existence
in 2018, or maybe 2019 if you’re watching this in the future. Participation in the brutally hierarchical
and inequitable system under which we are currently operating – and into which, by the
way, we’re all coerced, one way or another – causes stress, anxiety, depression, and
way more; but, of course, it maximises worker productivity – so that’s great, until the
workers inevitably burn out, having panic attacks, freaking out, becoming depressed
and stressed out. These are all things that people are currently
experiencing, at least partially, as a result of the current economic system. This hierarchical system destroys connection
with your co-workers as you find yourselves forced into a race to the top of some corporate
food chain which nobody wanted to be a part of in the first place. It destroys connection with family and friends
as you have no time to actually communicate with them. So much for automation making workers’ lives
easier. But it has made some people’s lives easier,
and I’ll give you a hint: it’s not ours. It’s the people at the top’s. Most of all, it destroys your connection with
yourself, as you find yourself wasting your days making obscured, distant figures richer
and richer, all the while neglecting your own personal, intellectual, perhaps even artistic
growth, depriving yourself of any significant chance at true self-actualisation independent
of your career. And there’s no relief because once you become
aware of the unfairness of this system and how you’re being exploited, that’s just going
to lead to further stress, anxiety, and depression, which can then spiral out of control into
any number of other serious mental illnesses. It’s a cliché, but in an insane world, sanity
– or awareness of the true conditions of your reality – is seen as the real problem. But even more dangerous is the unnegotiable
individualisation of this societal problem. *Examples of people individualising the problem*
“The problem isn’t with your environment. It’s definitely not your abrasive workplace
or the exploitative system you’re participating in, day in, day out. The real problem is within you. Simply talk to this therapist who charges
extortionate hourly rates, then spend a quarter of your monthly salary on these pills, and
solve the problems within yourself. In fact, I can sell you a life-changing online
course at a bargain rate to help you overcome your personal demons, because they are your
personal demons. Only yours and you are the problem for having
them. But I can sell you the cure! After you’ve purchased my products, everything
will be fine! Definitely don’t try to change the environment
which caused, or perhaps exacerbated, your mental illness. Now that, would be a REAL waste of time, am
I right? I mean the problem is within you, not outside
of you. How ridiculous!” Look, self-care IS important (this is real
me now, I’m no longer doing the bullshit lifestyle entrepreneur coach guru nonsense) and I don’t
mean to downplay the significance of interventions like therapy and medication for people who
really need that stuff. There is value in it for some people. When they’re truly needed, they can genuinely
be life-savers. But if there’s one area that can’t be spoken
about enough, it’s mental health. And when we hear about it from mainstream
media, mental illness is treated as an entirely individualised experience, stripped of any
systemic causality, and foolishly de-politicised in the process. And what’s worse is that it’s now far too
often being treated as yet another consumer category. Hence, the previous section of me selling
you courses and therapists and medicines, and all that kind of stuff. I wasn’t doing it very effectively, but I
was trying to highlight that there actually are charlatans out there trying to exploit
your mental illness for their own financial gains. If you aren’t being sold overpriced therapy
sessions, then it could be overpriced medicine (the production of which, it should go without
saying, NEEDS to be removed from the monopolised control of the avaricious corporate elites),
or if you’re not being sold those, then perhaps you’re being beguiled by one of these “lifestyle
coaches”, “sales gurus”, or sometimes even these “spiritual leader” YouTube bros who
are going to help you “find yourself” and overcome all of your difficulties. If that’s not enough of a demonstration of
the capitalistic exploitation of mental illness, then think about the massive market for mental
performance enhancement drugs, both the controlled (though very liberally prescribed) ones like
Adderall and Ritalin, and the ever-expanding list of unregulated “nootropics” being marketed
towards those who “want to get a leg up” on their co-workers in the office. Under neoliberalism, it’s no longer enough
to simply be okay mentally. You must be operating at MAXIMUM MENTAL PERFORMANCE
at all times to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of modern labour. “Feeling down? Just go buy some 5-htp. Struggling with insomnia? Just buy this melatonin. Feeling not good enough in any number of ways? Then just buy your way out of the problem! I recommend it.” So today I wanted to highlight that mental
illness absolutely needs to be reclaimed from the realm of consumerist individualism and
reimagined as a collectivised political struggle (the personal is political, after all, though
that’s probably a conversation for another day), as well as to highlight some alternative
systemic causes for mental illness’ occurrence and widespread prevalence in some, though
obviously not all, cases. For hip cats in the know, you may have noticed
that this video is heavily inspired by Mark Fisher’s 2009 landmark “Capitalist Realism”,
which I will be quoting from quite heavily in the following segments of this video. I also have to mention than I’ve drawn quite
a lot from the Vegan Vanguard podcast, episode 20, with Mexie and Mad Blender where they
have a really good conversation about this exact topic, just coming at it from a slightly
different angle. So, links below to that, and also where you
can get the book Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher. I really strongly recommend it, it’s pretty
life-changing, if I am being honest. Now to continue the conversation regarding
the individualisation of mental illness, I’d like to read one of my favourite passages
from Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism to you: In the 1960s and 1970s, radical theory and
politics (Laing, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, etc.) coalesced around extreme mental conditions
such as schizophrenia, arguing, for instance, that madness was not a natural, but a political
category. And, indeed, this supports the general thrust
of the arguments I’ve been making so far, but Fisher takes it even further in the following
lines: But what is needed now is a politicization
of much more common disorders. Indeed, it is their very commonness which
is the issue: in Britain, depression is now the condition that is most treated by the
NHS. In his book The Selfish Capitalist, Oliver
James has convincingly posited a correlation between rising rates of mental distress and
the neoliberal mode of capitalism practiced in countries like Britain, the USA, and Australia. In line with James’s claims, I want to argue
that it is necessary to reframe the growing problem of stress (and distress) in capitalist
societies. Instead of treating it as incumbent on individuals
to resolve their own psychological distress, instead, that is, of accepting the vast privatisation
of stress that has taken place over the last thirty years, we need to ask: how has it become
acceptable that so many people, and especially so many young people, are ill? Why is it that every single young person we
get know in any deep way – and I include myself in this generalisation – has either experienced
anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, something more serious, or a cocktail combination of
some or all of the above? And how have we so readily accepted that such
a ubiquitous phenomenon as this mental illness is merely an individualised, or privatised,
matter? Certainly, the stigma surrounding discussion
of mental illness perpetuates and exacerbates the problem. And the even more disturbing thing about this
suppression of discourse pertaining to mental illness is that our careers can often depend
on and, indeed, require this. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, of
course, but with every job position I’ve worked at in Ireland, I have been required to fill
in a basic Health Questionnaire with simple “Yes/No” tick-box questions prior to the commencement
of employment and the issuance of a work contract. Among the questions asked in these questionnaires
was always “Have you ever suffered from mental illness?” Now, you may think, quite charitably, that
they are simply asking about whether or not you have something like Dissociative Identity
Disorder, Schizophrenia, etc. But this question, at least in my experience,
has been invariably followed by the examples of “Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks”,
etc. Now, I’m no psychologist, of course, but I
am willing to bet that the vast, vast majority of people will experience at least one or
maybe more of these issues at one point or another in their lives. Perhaps this will be due to a death of a loved
one. Perhaps this will be due to a divorce. Perhaps this will be due to any number of
traumatic experiences which humans can, and normally will, experience in their lives at
some point. Perhaps they simply have a genetic predisposition
toward some of these states of being, I don’t know. And if you’ve ever experienced any of these
very common mental issues, then you are required to admit this by ticking “Yes” on that Health
questionnaire, and, indeed, you run the very real risk of being denied employment on those
grounds. Now, they won’t say that exactly, but we know
how capitalism works. The funny thing is I’ve never met a single
person who has ever ticked “Yes” to that question on the health questionnaires. Curiously, I’ve also never met anyone who
has never experienced the aforementioned issues, or perhaps some other form of mental illness. Funny thing, that, isn’t it? It’s almost as if there’s something systemically
wrong here. Mark Fisher continues:
The ‘mental health plague’ in capitalist societies would suggest that, instead of being the only
social system that works, capitalism is inherently dysfunctional, and that the cost of its appearing
to work is very high. Indeed, the price of maintaining this grand
illusion of the success and prosperity of neoliberalism is the very sanity and well-being
of its subjects upon whom it relies entirely to uphold. So should we continue to sacrifice our mental
health in order to bolster a system that doesn’t give a damn about us? A system which has progressively made life
more and more difficult for younger and younger generations? The same system which led to countless literal
genocides of indigenous populations all over the world in pursuit of property and profit? The same system which built its finest monuments,
and indeed itself, on the backs of slavery and the theft of the innumerable once-wealthy
nations of their natural resources? And we, as a global population, defend this
system so that people like you and I can be exploited and have the true products of our
labour stolen through working for f*cking Deliveroo and Uber? Being a member of even the working class proletariat
has become a privilege as real material conditions for modern workers have sunk so much lower
than ever before that we now only get to be members of what’s called “the precariat”! Yep, the precariat is a real thing and that’s
when workers are forced to do precarious work in order to make ends meet. In other words, they participate in “the gig
economy”. I had planned on making this a much longer
video where I would have gone into the details on the problems of “the gig economy”, the
socio-economic rationale for the rise of “kidults”, and the neoliberal destruction of meaningful
human connection, but I think that these topics, though absolutely related to the subject of
mental health and individualism, will require videos for themselves. Anyway, if you’re suffering from ill mental
health, my heart goes out to you. I’ve been there, too, and I understand the
pain you’re going through. I’ve suffered with anxiety, depression, panic
attacks, and a number of other issues. You do get through it. It takes time, but you’ll be okay. Never be afraid to speak up and get help,
even if it’s just talking to a friend, a family member, or someone else in your community
either online or offline. But also be aware that what you’re experiencing
is probably not merely just some individualistic affliction, but rather a much more widespread
societal malady that can only truly be meaningfully addressed politically. I’ll be back in a week or two to talk about
the Gig Economy, the Rise of the Precariat, and the Decline in Mental Well-Being. Take care, folks. Love and solidarity to you all.

28 thoughts on “Mental Health, Modern Society, and Individualisation

  1. fantastic video, great articulation of a systemic problem. it's great how you point out the place (or lack thereof) of the Arts under capitalism, how they are rarely commodified, therefore not suitable for the artist to make a living from. Arts only make money through association with advertising and value added to other activities (musicians, for instance, getting paid as a byproduct of the sale of booze). This dynamic subjugates the important social value of the Arts because they lose part of their value when they become commodities. Speaking of commodification, great insight into the commodification of illness that is produced by the unequivocal characteristics of capitalist societies. I would add that the epidemic is spread and aggravated by advertising and how it uses the deprecation of self esteem to create (or aggravate) those existencial gaps you mention with consumerist sprees that leave a weird mix of relief and guilt in their victims. Also, worth pointing out the abundance of trauma by sexual assault on children, byproduct of the normalisation of assault caused by the patriarchal systems that are being fought and put in question by feminism. Very well pointed out the isolation, that's a big one. How systemic problems are pushed to be shown as individual problems and how we tend to fail to see the big picture there. Fantastic. The latest portion of the video is promising. Definitely go and expand on the precariat-gig-economy, colonialism and exploitation. Great work! Thank you for a great video!

  2. I'm not sure what the replacement system should be, but I do know that the breakdown of community and family has contributed greatly to the rise in mental health problems. I have yet to see a system that I feel doesn't encourage negative aspects of humans in one form or another. The current system encourages greed and selfishness.

    I'm suspicious that this was done on purpose in order to make people more compliant with being manipulated as a form of slave race. The gradual wearing down of morality, the increase in self obsession, the disintegration of the family and so on.  

    It is also the era of apathy, where we've become immune to horror and lacking in empathy. Yes capitalism has contributed to this, but there's other things afoot I believe.

    If you question the current system, you're ridiculed, and it will get worse I believe.

  3. I think one of the biggest contributors to poor mental health is actually insufficient sleep. So many jobs require people to get up way too early and for no particular reason. Studies have shown that people are actually less productive when they have to get up early and a more productive starting later. Sleep deprivation has a massive effect on your mood and how you think and act, while it isn't the main cause of mental health problems it certainly adds to it and can make any depression or anxiety you might have even worse.

  4. You have a really horrid high pitched sound in your audio that makes this video unwatchable with the audio on, even though I'd quite like to tab out and listen to it. I resorted to reading the subtitles which worked, and the video was a good one, but you really need to fix that.

  5. I am an avid #MentalHealthAwareness advocate and performer, and I love this so much. I travel the country trying to bring that awareness on stages, in classrooms, hospitals, and on my YouTube channel, so I get excited when I see other advocates. 💙❤

  6. 12:04 You seem to be saying it is acceptable to discriminate against those with dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia, even if those people are healthy enough for their disorders to not significantly interfere with their ability to work. In some cases, this may interfere with their ability to work but in many cases it does not do this. There are people who can function well in society with these disorders.

  7. This was such a great video, I hate so much that we continue to privatize stress, making it an INDIVIDUAL issue when it is a POLITICAL issue as you mention. Thanks so much for the shout out btw so glad you liked the podcast episode and can’t wait to see more of your future content!

  8. thirty seconds in and i already know this is going to be excellent. always great to find new talent, thanks for the awesome video!!!

  9. Thank you for this video! I've always had a thought in the recesses of my mind that the 'epidemic' of mental health issues among younger people is related to (and probably caused) neoliberal capitalism's desire to extract and and all essence from them.
    I find myself in a bit of a strange – but definitely not uncommon – situation. I'll be 28 this year and I've had exactly one formal job in my life time (it was part-time casual, so not too formal). I lasted at that job for 9 months and in the 5 years since then I've mostly just studied, done a bit of work under the table, and ultimately been unemployed. Right now I need to find a job, and I have to do so in a barren job market. I find myself panicking whenever I think about updating my resume. I'll open up a jobsearch website and immediately get up and walk away from the computer. Any work that looks vaguely interesting or related to the degree I attained often requires +3 years of industry experience which then causes me to become disheartened.
    Because I am aware of the realities of working and becoming alienated in a capitalist system as you outlined in this video, I think I kind of anticipate the worst and end up not doing anything. I'm 'lucky' enough to be in a situation right now where making money isn't a do-or-die predicament…but I can't be a Kidult forever 😛
    Anyway this comment turned out longer than I anticipated and I'm missing a lot of details, but basically: This was a great video and it articulated something that's been playing on my mind for a while now, and I think my worrying about entering into the workforce because of how alienating it can be, isn't necessarily an isolated thing.

  10. Thank you for reaffirming my realization that I need to start a group for victims of Social Anxiety.

    People scoff at the mention of social anxiety because people are like "everyone has that, so don't whine about it."

    But….if EVERYONE has it, then…isnt that a sign that we should all whine about it more, TOGETHER, so…so that we can maybe, ya know FIX that shit??

    That's the most RATIONAL think to do, if it is rational to account for our respective mental health?

  11. Hey friend, you read Pedagogy of the Oppressed? Just thought it would be your jam considering how you describe yourself at the beginning of the video.

  12. It's pretty crazy you're a teacher. I'm currently trying to be a teacher. Next semester, I'll bet my Associates and can start working as a Substitute teacher. It sucks because going to school is making me stresses to no end. My friends and I are usually too busy to ever see each other except for more than once or twice a month so I'm always lonely. I stopped to think about this and yeah, capitalism ruins our ability to form relationships with each other. We're social creatures, not capital creatures. Needless busy work which tears us apart is definitely not going to help our mental health issues, but yeah it's definitely not an individual problem.

  13. This is very interesting to me. I’m bipolar- and it’s definitely something seen as an individual problem (and of course, my genetics are why I have this particular mental illness), but it’s also absolutely true that the environment that I am in greatly impacts on how well I deal with my mental health.

    I’m physically disabled- so disabled that I cannot work. That means that I am on a disability pension. Which means I’m poor. And it also means that I have higher medical costs- I’m on a lot of medications, from the Lithium and seroquel for the bipolar, to the opiates and lyrica for the pain, to a few other “miscellaneous” drugs. So I’m poor, and I pay more than some for that sort of thing. Then there’s the disability stuff- wheelchairs, and accoutrements- my wheelchair cushion costs $800! For a cushion!

    Then there’s therapy (which is highly useful, and I’d say entirely necessary for me). My government pays for 10 sessions per year, and I’m lucky to see a psychologist who doesn’t charge a gap fee (my previous one charged $50 gap, on top of what the government paid her). But 10 sessions is nowhere near enough for someone with a chronic mental illness. Which means I pay private health insurance so they can cover half the cost of another ten sessions per year. After that, I’m on my own, and paying $110 per session (and that’s for usually 6-10 sessions). And again- I’m already poor, and as a non worker, I’m valued even less by society than the working class is.

    These things absolutely impact my mental health. Then there’s the other stuff- like the anxiety and PTSD (that one caused by trauma, a trauma that society doesn’t seem keen to prevent)

    So I agree with you- even when you have a mental illness that is something that would happen regardless, something that is genetic, societal environment makes a difference. In our society, that difference is extremely negative.

  14. As someone with diagnosed ptsd and major depressive disorder i thought I'd weigh in, not that it makes me a authority figure in these manners but just as a reference to my understanding of mental health from my own experience with it. The nature/nurture of mental health debate is a spicy one. The way i see it, a lot of mental health is nature. A dysfunction of the brain, a hereditary mental condition, a predisposition, etc. HOWEVER our systems, and especially our early childhood, CAN and often do nurture that already natural defect or instill it in people who were not even naturally predisposed to any mental health issues.. In otherwords i am depressed but our system and alienation makes me MORE depressed. I feel worthless and the system reinforces that opinion. Im angry so disenfranchisement makes me angrier. Etc.

    I've also been echoing this sentiment to my therapist. Why am i called crazy for being depressed, someone who can live in this system and not feel depressed should be the exception. Why am i labeled "oppositionally defiant" when the lies from authority figures have nurtured that skepticism? Maybe the something deeper to these people's responses… We ignore the role in which systems affect people's mental, and even physical, health. Why am i the crazy one for being upset or skeptical of this shit system.

    Its also disgusting how mental health has been commodified with t shirts like "i have depression" and 13 reasons why. Even pharma comercials showing depression as people "always being sad" does a major disservice to mental health awareness and the nuance of mental health issues. They're straight profiting off of other people's misery in many ways, but i guess that isn't new to capitalism. This has also lead to the glorification of mental illness and made it trendy to have a mental illness. Which also nurtures dysfunction in non dysfunctional people out of a concious effort to be trendy.

    Tl;Dr. Mental health isnt exclusively either nature or nurture. Its not a dichotomy but a symbiotic relationship. Also commodifying mental health is bullshit.

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