"The Political Self" and "The Inner Level" - linking mental distress and our current system


Catching up with this great Red Pepper piece from Rod Tweedy, author and editor of Karnac Books. He asks: to what degree can we blame our epidemic of mental illness on an economic and political system that is driving people to the edge? From his essay:

Many people believe, and are encouraged to believe, that these problems and disorders – psychosis, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, self-harm – these symptoms of a ‘sick world’ (to use James Hillman’s terrific description) are theirs, rather than the world’s. ‘But what if your emotional problems weren’t merely your own?’, asks Tom Syverson. ‘What if they were our problems? What if the real problem is that we’re living in wrong society? Perhaps Adorno was correct when he said, “wrong life cannot be lived rightly”.’ 

The root of this ‘living wrongly’ seems to be because we live in a social and economic system at odds with both our psychology and our neurology, with who we are as social beings... We need to realise that our inner and outer worlds constantly and profoundly interact and shape each other, and that therefore rather than separating our understanding of economic and social practices from our understanding of psychology and human development, we need to bring them together, to align them. And for this to happen, we need a new dialogue between the political and personal worlds, a new integrated model for mental health, and a new politics.

Tweedy quotes from clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Jay Watts in the Guardian:

"Psychological and social factors are at least as significant and, for many, the main cause of suffering. Poverty, relative inequality, being subject to racism, sexism, displacement and a competitive culture all increase the likelihood of mental suffering. Governments and pharmaceutical companies are not as interested in these results, throwing funding at studies looking at genetics and physical biomarkers as opposed to the environmental causes of distress.

"Similarly, there is little political will to combine increasing mental distress with structural inequalities, though the association is robust and many professionals think this would be the best way to tackle the current mental health epidemic".

The book from which this essay is taken, The Political Self, is highly recommended (Pat Kane, one of the co-initators of A/UK, reviewed it earlier this year). But another book due out in 2018 will put even more weighty research behind Tweedy's ideas - forging an inarguable link between mental distress and modern capitalism.

The Inner Level is the follow-up to Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's The Spirit Level, now published in more than twenty languages. From The Penguin Press 2018 catalogue's blurb: 

The Spirit Level has been one of the most influential non-fiction books published in the last decade, showing conclusively how less equal societies fare worse than more equal ones across a whole range of social measures - health, education, levels of violence, life expectancy and child wellbeing - and initiating the enormous public attention now given to the impacts of inequality.

Based on an equally impressive range of data and analysis, The Inner Level now shows the impact inequality has on individuals: how it affects us psychologically, makes social relations more stressful, undermines self-confidence and distorts natural differences in personal abilities. It demonstrates that societies based on fundamental equalities, sharing and reciprocity produce much higher levels of wellbeing than those based on excessive individualism, competitiveness and social aggression. Like its predecessor, The Inner Level will transform ideas of how we should organise the way we live together. 

For A/UK, these connections are crucial - helping us to develop a politics of the full human being, drawing on experiences and emotions way beyond the usual vocabularies and priorities.