Friday, April 08, 2011

The Great (Clinical) Depression

Money worries are a social problem, and can't be cured by pills
The award for least surprising story of the week must go to the 'revelation' that the UK has seen a huge increase in anti-depressant use between 2006 and 2010. This was accompanied by 'speculation' that this might have something to do with the economic crisis. That might seem obvious, but it represents a tacit admission that many mental conditions are largely socially constructed, something that flies in the face of the traditional ruling class approach to psychological distress.

According to NHS Prescription Services data, the number of prescriptions for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, the most common anti-depressant drugs, rose by 43% over the period. GPs admitted they were increasingly being contacted by people with money worries - a social problem - and were responding with prescriptions for mind-altering drugs.

Emer O'Neill of Depression Alliance UK commented that "The financial strain on many people has never been worse. They are worried about their spiralling bills and where the next meal is coming from. It can make you feel very down, and it soon becomes a cycle." For the government, Care Services Minister Paul Burstow announced that funding for 'talking therapies' will be increased by £400 million over the next four years.

As someone who was clinically depressed in my teens and early twenties, I believe that talking to a stranger about your problems can be beneficial. However, talking does not make those problems - which are generally rooted in the state of society itself - go away. At best, it can help someone sort through their own thinking. With all avenues of improving society supposedly closed, capitalism responds with the medicalisation of the social - the social problem becomes the 'mental illness'.

Scientists speculate that the 'illness' known as depression is actually a very healthy evolutionary adaptation, allowing the individual to withdraw for a while, and weigh up their options. The problem for many at this time in humanity's history is that there don't appear to be any options. The necessary rebirth of the working class movement will bring hope to millions, whether they are labelled depressive or not.
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