Capitalism is just depressing

By Mark Harris

July 23, 2011 -- -- There is no denying it, depression is on the rise across the world. The World Health Organization says depression will be the second largest contributor to the global burden of disease by 2020. For young people this is already the case. Depression leads to about 850,000 deaths every year.

But why is depression on the rise? In some instances it is a product of more readily available methods of diagnosis and public understanding of the disorder. But increases in suicide rates and other indicators suggest that the increase in depression is well beyond this statistical readjustment.

Depression is not always caused by a chemical imbalance or as a result of human biology. It is a result of social factors such as loneliness, lack of social support, financial strain, lack of purpose and unemployment. These are endemic under capitalism.

Even in a wealthy country like Australia, youth often look to a future that is at best unfulfilling. Furthermore, capitalism is based on competition. In all sorts of ways we can only succeed if someone else fails. Obvious examples are job interviews or exams to get into uni.

Capitalist culture

Capitalist culture emphasises competition and individualism. Even the main form of transport — cars — means being physically separated from, and often in competition with, other people travelling on the same road.

Loneliness and lack of social support stem from capitalism’s drive to alienate us from each other.

As a result of this alienation of people from their community, those suffering social isolation are unable to find a way out. They continue with the things the way they are and everything gets worse, leading to feelings of depression.

In Venezuela, rates of suicide dropped steadily from the year 2000, according to World Health Organization figures, to 3.8 in every 100,000, at a time it was rising globally.

A factor in this is the socially engaging character of the Venezuela's popular revolution. For example, the communal council’s that organise local communities to govern themselves are playing a role in empowering citizens. They provide the funding needed for programs to run in communities that improve lives. These programs include education missions, sports clubs, cultural groups and neighbourhood associations.

Workers' control

Along with alienating people from their community, capitalism alienates people from the products of their labour. Workers have no control over the products they produce, and no say in how they complete their work.

The consumers of these products often have very little need for the objects they buy — advertising (and a culture based on consumerism) creates artificial desires and profits are made from junk.

This lack of control over production by anyone outside of the capitalist class — reducing work to blindly following orders — means a large part of people’s time, energy, creativity and skill is, in effect, stolen.

For many young people, work means a depressing, dead-end job and little prospect of anything different in the future.

Compare this with worker-controlled workplaces.

In these workplaces, workers control what is being produced. They are able to decide democratically with their co-workers how they go about their work and do not work just to produce wealth for the boss.

In Venezuela, there are experiments in models of workers' control, though it is still limited.

This model of worker and community control is aimed at socially useful production and social cohesion. In worker-run workplaces there is no lack of purpose due to pointless labour.

Financial strain and unemployment come from the constant drive of capitalists to maximise their profit. Workers’ wages and jobs are cut but workplaces are expected to increase their output. The cost of living goes up faster than wages.

There is no such thing as job security under capitalism. Its need for profit means people need to worry about their livelihood, which can lead them to stress and depression.


In Cuba being able to work is seen as a basic right. Most workers are employed by the state and all people are provided with what they need, including housing, food, education and health care. All jobs are secure and there is no need to work at a productivity level that is beyond the average person.

Before the Cuban Revolution, suicide rates were rising, but from 1959 until the early 1970s it decreased, Cuban Institute of Legal Medicine figures show.

However, economic problems caused by the crippling embargo that the US has imposed on the island since the revolution led to the suicide rate increasing again. Since then, the implementation of mental health programs has meant that the suicide rate has again begun to drop.

Capitalism creates depression. During the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency (1981-89) in the US, suicide rates in young people climbed dramatically. This increase can be matched with increased unemployment, which reached 11.4% in 1983, according to US Bureau of Labor statistics.

Along with unemployment, the neoliberal assault since then has increased alienation from communities, lack of purpose in workplaces and insecurity in jobs. With no way in the current model to take control of their work and lives, people are sinking into the pits of depression at an alarming rate.

Target cause not symptoms

How does capitalism respond to the epidemic of depression? The answer is pharmaceutical. Antidepressants are being given to people with mild or moderate depression without first offering information on the side effects.

The Child Trauma Academy in Houston said if doctors prescribed antidepressants more responsibly, the rate of prescriptions in children would drop by 90%. But pharmaceutical companies try to maximise their profits by treating symptoms rather than curing illnesses at the expense of people they claim to help.

The trend to treat everyone who is upset as depressed is fuelled by clever marketing from pharmaceutical companies. The profits that can be made from these drugs are huge. Antidepressants are one of the highest selling drugs in the world.

By contrast, is preventative medicine is a form of treatment that targets the cause not the symptoms.

Preventative medicine addresses the social, chemical or lifestyle causes of an illness. In this model, instead of handing out medicines to treat how someone is feeling, they are helped to fix the cause of their depression. This model decreases reliance on harmful medication and truly helps someone with depression. It has been used in Cuba for many years and is being implemented in the Barrio Adentro health-care mission in Venezuela.

A sinister aspect of over-prescription of antidepressants is the acceptance of the world as it is. By prescribing patients who are feeling down with these drugs without adequately investigating the causes of peoples’ unhappiness, the medical profession is, in effect, saying “there is nothing wrong with your world, it’s all in your head”.

Studies by the Al-Aqsa University found that in Gaza, 90% of people suffer from some form of mental illness. However, considering that Gaza is an overcrowded, walled community under violent siege, regularly bombed, periodically invaded, where Israeli surveillance drones continually buzzing around is part of normal reality, it could be are argued that it’s those without feelings of depression, anxiety or paranoia who have mental issues.

The world won’t be better just because medication makes it feel better.

Depression is a complex illness and capitalism is making its prevalence far worse. When people unite to struggle for a humane, rational society, they are treating the source of this disorder.

[This article appeared on the website of Resistance, the socialist youth group affiliated with the Australian Socialist Alliance.]

Submitted by Charles (not verified) on Wed, 08/03/2011 - 04:26


A timely article. The importance of social and political factors on mental health,greatly worsened under advanced capitalism, has received far too little attention. Blaming individual weakness of character ("you must pull yourself together, but these pills should help")is still the reason favoured by most of the medical profession and of course is in line with the right wing propaganda of blaming the poor for their poverty. And we should never forget the huge profits made by Big Pharma and their advertising cronies. They are so powerful now they are in effect inventing illnesses to win even more loot.
The idea, almost an ideology, that "There is nothing wrong with the world, it's all in your head", as aptly put in Harris's article, has been persuasively combated by David Smail, a clinical psychologist whose work deserves to be far better known - see two of his books, "The Nature of Unhappiness", Robinson, 2001 and "Power, Interest and Psychology: Elements of a social materialistic understanding of distress", PCCS Books, 2005.

Submitted by Dr David Faber (not verified) on Mon, 02/11/2013 - 12:53


Be careful. Whatever the social aetiology contributing to aspects of the phenotype of depression, the genotype of mood disorder is expressed whatever the social context. Surely there was sociological & biological depression under the failed pseudo-socalist Soviet regime. Good historical materialism requires respect for biology & Darwinian evolutionary thinking; despite Darwin having worked off some Malthusian principles, Marx & Engels were great admirers of Darwin the biologist, sending him a copy of `Capital' & thought themselves his economic disciples.