How capitalism affects mental health

Photo by Abenteuer Albanien on Unsplash

Capitalism both directly and indirectly affects mental health. While correlation doesn’t equal causation, capitalism permeates virtually all aspects of life in modern society, including our psyche.

There might be skepticism when approaching this idea, but the fact is everyone is affected differently by it, so personal experiences and biases could alter someone’s perception of the connection between capitalism and mental health.

Not only that but even those that are affected by capitalism might not even be aware. The western part of the world, specifically the U.S. and Canada, have been driven by capitalist ideals for a long time, meaning that people in these societies only see it as a natural way of organizing production. For most people in these societies, it’s all they know resulting in an unrealistic picture of socialist ideals. 

In fact, research on social psychology and behaviour shows that the western hemisphere has a more individual approach and outlook on society, compared to the eastern countries. This is to say that in North America, personal gain might seem more favourable than group benefits.

This tells us that not only is the capitalist ideal portrayed as “normal” but as desirable. An example of this is the “from rags to riches” story better known as the American Dream. While there are different ways people are socialized into thinking this way, the imprint Hollywood left on class ideals is undeniable. How long until we realize this was a farce and not at all realistic for most people?  

What about those in the western hemisphere who might have a socialist perspective? Well, this is an effect that is seldom talked about. This can subconsciously affect mental health as it adds frustration from political decisions in one’s country since one is able to see the faults a capitalist society brings such as heightened inequality.

In a more current context, we can see the effects of the hyper – not to mention toxic – productivity of today’s society on mental health. People are working multiple jobs, education (depending on the field) is not worth as much as it was before, and prices continue to rise. There has been an increase in homelessness, addictions, and other problems. Unfortunately, some people don’t tie these back to capitalism and blame the individual instead, which only feeds into the rugged individualism that’s constitutive of capitalist ideology.

Additionally, these situations can lead to burnout, depression, and anxiety. Today’s work culture or “hustle culture” can leave one feeling like they’re not doing enough compared to their “highly productive peers”, and taking a break seems as undesirable and adds fear of falling behind. This is ruining hobbies, as activities previously done for fun and relaxation are turning into a business. On top of that, a high percentage of people find dissatisfaction in their jobs as they might not be passionate about it and are only doing it for monetary gain.

Take a moment to analyze and think about where these societal ideals and rules came from, where you learned them, and why they might seem normal. Keep in mind that other people perceive the world differently. As the previously mentioned research shows that the culture one is socialized in shapes ideals and behaviours. If we are surrounded by institutions and media glorifying capitalism, then of course that is going to turn into the goal for many people, but we need to understand its dangers; just because it doesn’t affect you it doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect somebody else.

The idea here is to acknowledge that capitalism affects mental health, that isn’t to say an alternative will fix all the problems mentioned above, but it could certainly alleviate a lot of them.

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