A Mad World: Capitalism and the Rise of Mental Illness


From Red Pepper: Capitalism produces much of the mental distress that is categorized as “mental illness” by turning human creativity and connectivity into social isolation, alienation, and objectification.

“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. As I suggest in my book, 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.”

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  1. This article should be read by all MIA readers.

    This provides a penetrating analysis of the connections between modern human distress with the way in which society is structured, in particular, the way in which the production of human necessities is carried out and the resulting effects of all the inequalities of their distribution.

    We cannot seriously talk about ending psychiatric oppression without at the same time questioning the very nature of the environment that endlessly creates and nurtures its existence.

    My only criticism of this article is its obvious failure to question the very terminology and System thinking that mislabels and misunderstands all the forms of human distress it has so eloquently analyzed its origins.


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  2. Personally, I believe the problem is more crony capitalism, than capitalism itself. It’s a problem of our government, and the governments around the world, not doing their job of preventing “too big to fail” banks, arms industry, and Pharma and oil cartels, etc. Small businesses, not “too big to fail” businesses are what made America great, and the small American businesses have been systemically under attack for decades, and still are.

    The microeconomic equations are all wrong, too. They have no variable which accounts for the value of power, which does have a value, so none of the microeconomic equations work correctly. A book pointing this out by one of my old econ professors:


    Absolutely, I agree, it’s our society which is sick. It is not the individuals within it who think never ending wars of aggression, insatiable greed, a total lack of the rule of law, and child abuse are bad who are sick.

    The US used to have laws regarding corporations which helped to ensure they were functioning in the common good, now the US judicial system has awarded the corporations the legal status of people, which is absurd and insane. Not sure if The Corporation book he was referring to is the basis of this movie, but this is a great movie describing the psychopathic nature of the corporations.


    It’s not all that complicated, we just need to go back to an understanding that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” so no one should have too much power, or be above the law. And I do agree with his Jungian like comments that our societal institutions need to be structured based upon the concept of “we,” not just “me,” thus about the mutual respect of all.

    Today’s material world only, what’s good for me only, all distress caused by the ugliness of the world is a “mental illness” in an individual’s brain, DSM theology is utter insanity. I just wasn’t aware of how insane the psychologists’ and psychiatrists’ theology was, because that wasn’t my field of study. I wasn’t aware of the fact that their primary function within our society was covering up rape of children. I’m still amazed that entire industries of humans could have gone off believing in such an insanely stupid and ungodly disrespectful theology as that of the DSM.

    But the psychiatric industry killed millions in Nazi Germany and communist Russia, their ungodly theology is aways and forever insanely wrong, I guess. You’d think they’d learn eventually, but I guess not.

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    • “Personally, I believe the problem is more crony capitalism, than capitalism itself.”

      I would say neoliberalism, as is suggested by one of the sources in the article, has a lot to do with it. Crony capitalism, sure, but isn’t that what corporatocracy is all about. Capitalism is always going to be blind-sided by it’s ultimately selfish and individualistic motives. Motives that lead, of necessity, to something approaching crony capitalism in most, if not all, cases. As a certainty without some kind of better system of checks and balances on obscene inequality than that provided by our present economic system.

      “Absolutely, I agree, it’s our society which is sick. It is not the individuals within it who think never ending wars of aggression, insatiable greed, a total lack of the rule of law, and child abuse are bad who are sick.”

      Sick like the magazine as physical illness, concrete and organic, is not the issue. At present, the state says “insane” is “a danger to oneself or others”, and somehow that doesn’t include war mongers. I say the pathologizing of the non-pathological (i.e. the medicalizing of the non-medical) is the problem, and this harks back to an over broad dictionary definition of disease and illness. I’m not saying problems, and their solutions, are not social. I am saying they’re not illnesses.

      “But the psychiatric industry killed millions in Nazi Germany and communist Russia,,,”

      And the psychiatric industry has killed millions in capitalist America, too. Let’s not forget that. It doesn’t pay, after all, to save everyone, and so one for all, and every man, woman, and child of us for him or herself. Keep paying, darling. What are your chances of winning the lottery today? Well, I hear they’re somethng like 14,000,000 to 1.

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      • I do agree, neoliberalism has gone off the deep end. I think a “corporatocracy” is the same thing as fascism, which is absolutely not the same thing as free market capitalism.

        As to, “Capitalism is always going to be blind-sided by it’s ultimately selfish and individualistic motives,” this is a repeated problem in our history, I agree. But creating laws which prevent this, and breaking up monopolist and oligopolist industries, is supposed to be our government’s job, although they’ve been doing the opposite in recent decades. This is the problem.

        “At present, the state says ‘insane’ is ‘a danger to oneself or others,’ and somehow that doesn’t include war mongers.” Good point, today’s psychologists and psychiatrists think anyone who saw the improprieties with 9/11, or disagrees with the resulting never ending wars, is “insane.” That’s exactly what I was drugged up for.

        So I absolutely agree, “the pathologizing of the non-pathological (i.e. the medicalizing of the non-medical) is the problem.” And that’s all psychiatry does from my understanding, thus it is an irrelevant specialty. And their own knowledge of their own “irrelevant” nature then gets projected onto their patients, I found, which was too disrespectful, so I had to walk away.

        And, yes, we must not neglect to mention the millions and millions in capitalist America that the psychiatric industry is murdering unrepentantly today, especially all the innocent children and child abuse victims, you are right.

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  3. Of course the abundance of “mental illness” we see in the world today has a lot to do with capitalism. Institutional treatment got off the ground, in England, from which it slowly spread to the then colonies, with ‘the trade in lunacy’ that was beginning, with the establishment of private mad houses, in the middle of the 17th century. Flash forward to 2017, selling “mental health treatments”, of course, creates “epidemics” of “mental illness”. First, you’ve got to sell “the disorder”, “the disease”, and the “trade in lunacy” of today is burgeoning by contrast without any sign of let up, and no wonder. It puts bacon (or some more or less close facsimile thereof) on the table of mental health professionals and mental health workers (not to mention pharmaceutical researchers, salesmen, and execs), and, on the table of the non-working (some say “broken”) mental patients as well. Go figure.

    “Why should all of these contemporary social and economic practices and processes generate so much illness, so many disorders? To answer this I think we need to look back at the wider Enlightenment project, and the psychological models of human nature out of which they emerged.”.

    Indeed, as I was saying, but you also might do something that they don’t do in this specific article, and that’s look at the APA, and the DSM, and their role in the proliferation of “mental illnesses” we see today. New “mental disorders” aren’t discovered in nature, really, they are invented in committee by a vote from members of the APA. Certainly no psychiatrist is likely to find detrimental, for himself or his family, the appearance of another “mental illness”, or a dozen, on the world’s business horizon. His line of work, after all, being the study, treatment, and “prevention”, once they’ve been invented, of various forms of “mental disorder”.

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    • I don’t think of grief as good, and I don’t think it was all nonsense. I wouldn’t throw it out wholesale, baby, bathwater, and all. I thought the theme was rather broad, and embodied many different opinions, some of which were nonsensical and some of which made complete sense. I’m more partial to the sensible views myself.

      I know that Marxists, as well as being revisionist, can be pig-headed and authoritarian. I also know that the left has not been as receptive as it could have been when it came to recognizing the importance of our movement, nor of seeing our place within the left, but I kind of think it is up to us to persuade them rather than the other way around.

      When the barricades go up, in other words, even if it’s in eulogy, I would want my name to be listed among the communards, and I would not want my name to be listed among the murderous government thugs.

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  4. 1. The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in “advanced” countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities…

    Text of Unabomber Manifesto https://partners.nytimes.com/library//unabom-manifesto-1.html

    This article just reminded me of the unibomber writings.

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    • There are, and have been, for centuries a rising tide of angry voices surging against the inequality and injustice that are built into capitalism. We’re not talking about one man’s personal vendetta on civilization and murder spree. The same cannot be said of Ted Kaczynski AKA the Unabomber. Of course, to distinguish between the words of a terrorist, the words, in the main, of critical academics, and those of a blind and purely emotional nationalism in the hands of a demagogue requires something of a sense of discretion. I would suggest, if you are serious about offering a critique, you tackle a much wider range of reading material. I don’t think a critique of capitalism differs in any great way from a critique of bio-psychiatry with its emphasis on genetics, sole reliance on pharmaceutical products, and intimate relationship to the the pharmaceutical industry. If imperialism has lost some of it’s predatory and colonial hold over much the developing world, after a few fights here and there, the same cannot be said yet of western medicine. That’s something that I’d say capitalism has had a lot to do with.

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