I recently read an article in the Guardian by Oliver James, discussing how ‘Selfish Capitalism’ was having a massive impact upon our mental health. In the article, he explains that citizens of Selfish Capitalist nations are twice as likely to suffer from mental illnesses compared with those from mainland Western Europe, where the political economy is based predominantly on ‘Unselfish Capitalism’.
To explain why, he starts by addressing the fact that there is no ‘trickle down’ effect in our economies, essentially the rich keep getting richer and the poor and just getting poorer. Alone, he believes that, although wrong, these inequalities are not the sole cause of our declining mental health. What is the cause of this is the materialistic quality of ‘Selfish Capitalism’. He claims that we live in a society with high expectations for ourselves that just aren’t realistic, leaving feeling unworthy and, consequently, impacting our mental health.
I found this article very interesting and thought myself about this idea of how we are forced into a mould that, realistically, we may never be able to fit. There are constantly new products on the market that we ‘need’ in order to make ourselves better, essentially making money from lowering our self-esteem and making us worry about flaws we didn’t even know we had. If you can’t afford these items, or simply don’t want these items, you are left facing images all over ever form of media making you feel guilty about that. You shouldn’t buy a lipstick unless it’s from a certain brand because any other is not deemed worthy by the social media, capitalist stereotype we are supposed to fit. This whole idea of ‘buying things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like’, springs to mind and, of course, that is going to have an impact upon our mental health. The standards that are set, not just with products but also in what we as people should be achieving, are just not realistic for us all. We are left feeling inferior and unaccomplished, constantly being forced to compare ourselves with a ‘Selfish Capitalist’ model that we may not want or not be capable of being. I am as much as sucker for these ploys as everyone else and have many times bought things that, as a student, I can’t really afford because I thought that’s what I should be doing in order to be the person that I’m expected to be. The pressure to give in to ‘Selfish Capitalist’ ways is, in my opinion, exhausting and no good for our mental health, and this is exactly what our economy thrives off. It thrives from our discontent and desire to be more than we are already. As the articles states, we become greedy and therefore we are sucked into this ‘workaholism’ that, unfortunately, the majority then cannot escape from. We become trapped in a cycle of being discontented so working harder and then becoming more dissatisfied than we were before as we do not see the results that we wish to see.
This all sounds fairly morbid, and unfortunately I think it is. Although there can perhaps be individual positive benefits, even this is difficult as it has become so engrained within our culture. The article suggests this can be solved simply stating that ‘not only would reduced consumerism and greater equality make us more ecologically sustainable, it would halve the prevalence of mental illness within a generation.’ Despite, in theory this sounding fairly straightforward, reducing consumerism is something that will undoubtedly be very challenging. The important thing is that, even if we cannot fully become no longer susceptible to selfish capitalist advertising, we need to take steps individually and on a large scale to make sure that this is not having an impact upon people’s mental health.
If you’re interested in reading the article for yourselves, you can check it out here.
Jamie Lee Jenkins (@JenkinsLeeJamie)