Saturday, 10 September 2011

Why is Mental Health illness on the Rise? by Omar Shahid

This piece was first published in the Huffington Post

New findings from the European College of Psychopharmacology reports that 164.8 million Europeans - 38.2% of the population - suffers from a mental disorder.

However the recognition and medicalization of mental illnesses is now more prevalent then ever; doctors are accused of too hastily classifying 'abnormal behaviour' as a mental ailment. This is cited as one of the reasons for the 'increase' in mental health.

Furthermore, the stigma attached to mental disorders is nowhere near as heinous compared to previous decades. Only 50 odd years ago, those who struggled with mental disorders were locked up in a clandestine environments, today, thankfully, we're much more willing to admit that we have a problem and receive a diagnosis.

The findings also tell us that women suffer disproportionately more from mental disorders than men do. Hans-Ulrich Wittchen, one of the report's authors, says the reason why women suffer twice as much depression and anxiety disorders is because of their inability to successfully balance work with their family life.
While some misogynists or religious zealots may claim that women were not somehow 'designed' to simultaneously balance work and family life, an alternative explanation - and one supported by evidence - is that women go to see the doctors more often than men do.

There are a couple of factors relating to mental health that time and time again seem to evade public attention.
The first is the increase in prescription of antipsychotic drugs. In 2008, antipsychotics became the best-selling therapeutic prescription drugs in the United States - exceeding drugs to treat high cholesterol and acid reflux. Investigative journalist James Ridegeway said in a piece he wrote for Al Jazeera recently that drug companies now encourage the prescription of atypical antipsychotics to patients for off-label use. This should concern us. For what other reason would drug companies be doing this other than to boost their profits? And will British drug companies soon copy their American counterparts?

The second thing that is seldom discussed is the ubiquitous refrain propounded by some anti-consumerists: 'depression arises when we can't satisfy our insatiable wants'. While it is true that we live in a profoundly consumerist society (I don't think anybody denies this), whether consumerism leads to depression or other mental illnesses seems like a proliferative jump. The relationship between consumerism and mental illness isn't generally taken seriously, but why isn't it?

It is not unusual to hear that mental illness is on the rise, but we rarely hear what is being done to prevent the issue. If we concede that it is not that mental health is increasing, it is that we are able to diagnose it better, that still doesn't solve the problem. The World Health Organisation has said by 2020, depression is expected be second most burdensome disease worldwide; shaving the life expectancy of countless people.
When we do decide to confront the issue, antipsychotic drugs and consumerism should both be discussion points.

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