Neoliberalism Is Creating a Mental Health Crisis

Meagan Day writing over at Jacobin magazine is quoting from a new study that was published in Psychological Bulletin written by Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill. And what this absolutely fascinating study found was behavioral and psychological changes in the American population, and these changes are most pronounced among people under 50, down into the end of the Millennials in particular, but it stretches right across the United States.

And what they're finding is that perfectionism is on the rise. Now, what is perfectionism? Perfectionism comes in three forms: there's self-oriented perfectionism - "I want to be perfect", there's other-oriented perfectionism - "I want my wife / my husband / my employee / my employer / my neighbor / my friend to be perfect", and then there's socially prescribed perfectionism which is where the entire culture starts basically harassing us all to be perfect.

They say all three types are on the rise and this is a bad thing. This is causing an increase in suicides, an increase in anxiety, and an increase in all kinds of problems. In fact, they write:

"Unsurprisingly, societies governed by these values make people very judgmental, and very anxious about being judged..."

Meagan Day writes:

"It describes the feeling of paranoia and anxiety engendered by the persistent - and not entirely unfounded - sensation that everyone is waiting for you to make a mistake so they can write you off forever. This hyper-perception of others' impossible expectations causes social alienation, neurotic self-examination, feelings of shame and unworthiness, and 'a sense of self overwhelmed by pathological worry and a fear of negative social evaluation, characterized by a focus on deficiencies, and sensitive to criticism and failure.'"

Do you find yourself criticizing yourself as you go through the day? "Oh, I shouldn't have said that, oh my god, I can't believe I did that." That's what we're talking about here.

"They found that people born in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada after 1989 scored much higher than previous generations for all three kinds of perfectionism, and that scores increased linearly over time. "

Socially prescribed perfectionism has doubled - a hundred percent increase.

"In other words, young people's feeling of being judged harshly by their peers and the broader culture is intensifying with each passing year."

So why would this be happening? Well, it turns out that this is the result of neoliberalism, which you could also call Reaganism or Thatcherism. Both the United States and the United Kingdom have been badly infected by this, and Germany to some extent. This is part of the battle that's going on right now in the conservative base in Germany. The German conservatives are neoliberals.

So what they write about is neoliberal ideology. What is neoliberalism? Neoliberalism is the belief that looking at markets and noting, as Milton Friedman pointed out years and years ago, millions of decisions are made every second in marketplaces and therefore Friedman suggested marketplaces are perfect because they're crowd sourced.

Well, it's BS, because marketplaces are actually created by both government and companies and manipulated by both government and companies. But nonetheless neoliberalism is the ideology that what works for markets should work for politics and should work in our social lives. So as Meagan Day writes in Jacobin...

"Neoliberal ideology reveres competition, discourages cooperation, promotes ambition, and tethers personal worth to professional achievement."

See, prior to Reagan we had a we society - from the New Deal in 1933 all the way up to 1981 it was a we society - we were strengthening Social Security, we were strengthening Medicare and Medicaid, we were building free college education all over the country, we were all in this together. Post-Reagan it's the me Society - me, me, me, me, me. And it's atomizing, breaking up, shattering society and the standards of the we Society of the "I'm my brother's keeper" as one of our callers talked about recently.

Neoliberalism destroys that. Reaganism and Thatcherism destroys that. So back the article...

"Neoliberal ideology reveres competition, discourages cooperation, promotes ambition, and tethers personal worth to professional achievement. Unsurprisingly, societies governed by these values make people very judgmental, and very anxious about being judged."

You're only as good as how much money you make or how high you climb in the status hierarchy in your workplace.

I think that the judgmentalism of Donald Trump is a great example of this. They say...

"Young people today are less interested in engaging in group activities for fun, attending instead to individual endeavors that make them feel productive or fill them with a sense of achievement. "

The respect for peers is conditional on how good they are. This has produced an epidemic of serious mental illness.

"Perfectionism is highly correlated with anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts."

So how do we fix this? We repudiate neoliberalism. We say Reaganism was a huge mistake, this 'greed is good' mentality, this 'me, me, me'. Let's just reverse that and go back to building a we society.

Of course, that's going to require getting the billionaires and their money out of politics.


Oldskoold's picture
Oldskoold 6 years 18 weeks ago

Wonderful! The dots connected. We are dealing with a generation and a half that won't able to go to college and come out debt free. I don't mean "online college" (Thom Tillis perhaps has a simblance of a soul lately but I hazzard a guess as to where his degree is from, and, was it online or as I will describe below just out of High School and/or liberty University and FGS Trump college/university as I suspect? I mean the room and board college! The kind where the page is somewhat blank at 18 years old and you have to assimilate with other cultures. I mean Yankees and Confederates and the ocassional immigrant in 1975 that you (perhaps encountered if so lucky to have had the opprotunity as a new chapter in your life on your own without daily influense by southern norms). I felt it as a coming of age and explored/investigated and disregarded ingrained opinions I had been raised around and heard while growing up. Fortunately; my father drove us away from a Clan meeting in Polkville NC when I was around 6 years old. I had an open mind due to the fact he did that. My Dads best friends were black and I loved them all as uncles, aunts, and brothers and sisters. I will never forget seeing young black girls with broomstraw in their ear from a recent piercing running around the un-underpinned shanty's of a sharecroppers home. We were the last of a legasy of cotton growing landowners in Cleveland Co. NC. Luckily I have had the opprotunity to take my oldest son to the site of the Clan meeting. We found several trailers, not underpinned, but they had the Rebel Battle flag flying. I guess you can't fix STUPID! And; I'm kinda getting tired of trying to wait then out. I find it telling that the trailers won't underpinned either. I bet some, and I hope all, those girls are living in New York and in palatial apartments or houses................LOL! Bet there underpinned and painted or masonry structures too!

And most likely not flying a damn flag except for a flower!

gmiklashek950's picture
gmiklashek950 6 years 18 weeks ago

What a great example of bad science, of made-up "just so" stories to explain natural phenomena, rather than serious scientific hypothesis building and testing. I would like to suggest that these emtions are the direct consequence of of overpopulation and the status hierarchies that all mammals sort themselves out in. Just look at the body language of football players or any other sports contestants when they win a contest versus those who have lost. Ask them how they're feeling and they will describe either joy and elation, or sadness and deflation. Our problem, living in the overpopulated society that we have created, is that our hierarchies are filled up and have little room for newcomers. Try to be the top student in your freshman college chemistry class, when there are many hundreds of competitors vying for that status. We suffer from "fitting-in" exhaustion and the consequence is dysphoric mood, increased anxiety, increased depression, increased suicide, increased substancee abuse, etc. Want the details? Google "Stress R Us" and go to Topic 25, "HIERARCHY: STATUS, DOMINANCE, AND SUBMISSION". Stress R Us. Thank you, Thom, for bringing up these important topics and for your ever curious mind. I put you near the top of my media status hierarchy! Can you feel it?! :)) I wish I had the money to put it where only my words are now! Afterall, I'm a retired neuro-psychiatrist and left my 41 year paractice being owed $1,000,000. in unpaid fees. I wouldn't trade the million for my clean conscience! :))

Oldskoold's picture
Oldskoold 6 years 18 weeks ago

Now Gmilk; youngest son who hasn't visited the "meeting site" agrees with you. A vehicle of the over population is overdue. I just hope it will be a "Stupid/Racist/Lazy" gene that the next plague's virius will target. I'm almost afraid to show him where it is. He just might go off and I don't want to take "Chicken on Sunday" to visit him. It's got that damn bad. Hope I hit the lottery tonight. I'll be somewhere else. I'll leave all my "deterrents" and delivery systems here! There not leagal in most "civilized countries" and; unneeded.

MaxM 6 years 18 weeks ago

Of course, these problems did not begin with Reagan or Thatcher. Those two eagerly supported the resurgence of the capitalist capture of government that had been reined in by FDR and the New Deal.. Neoliberalism is nothing more than globalized, virulent capitalism. The US has always been a society characterized by individualism and competitiveness. That is part of our national personality and results directly from the type of economic system that has prevailed here since our founding. A handful of owners exploiting masses of powerless workers. Competition required for survival, and me-ism were, and still are natural outcomes. Now corporations fully control the news and information we receive, what entertainment we are exposed to, and all the advertising we see and hear. We are all a captive audience to the messages they want us to receive. And those messages have only intensified our selfishness, suferficiality and paranoia. We need to do far more than getting money and the rich out of politics. We need to get capitalism permanently out of its position of control over government, society and its institutions.

Hephaestus's picture
Hephaestus 6 years 18 weeks ago

#2 - Kindly define over population?

Paticularly relating to where!

Countries affected (quoted) are the US, UK and to some extent Germany

Kindly inform how many people need to be removed or reduced in number to alleviate the malady

TIrving's picture
TIrving 6 years 18 weeks ago

The Study is an over simplification of the changes and causes for them in our society. Our parents knew of real poverty born of the Great Republican Depression and hardships of war(s). Power in mass movements gave us "the middle class". These achievements were damned from the early years starting in earnst in 1953 by the joint efforts of the CIA (Allen Dullus), FBI (J.Edgar Hoover) and the Pentagon. The deamoninzation, marginalization, coercion (blackmail) and murder of U.S. citizens never ended, but was expanded as Edward Snowdens releases demonstrate. Through those methods they control our media and national dialogue. I strongly suspect that the aristocracy will never allow real democracy to resurface again as it did during the Russian Revolution or with FDR's New Deal and the social organizations that made it happen. The worse is yet to come for North Americans. Perhaps then, if anybody is left alive (remember "they" hold the nuclear button) a new socially responsible society might re-emerge. Fear born of poverty is a tool of the aristocracy.

TIrving's picture
TIrving 6 years 18 weeks ago

In case you haven't studied "over-population", it includes everyone and everywhere on this small, resource finite planet. Our speciecies will literally starve to death at around 9 billion people. Of course, it's already happening in "third world" countries and in poorer places in the Americas. Coupled with rising sea levels and our species inability to peacefully reconcile ourselves with each other, the end of human life and all terrestrial, save deep sea creatures is more probable than meerly possible. We are already seeing rises in cancer death related to "Chernoble". Now even worse the "Fuchushima meltdowns" which, to this moment haven't been contained, along with nuclear weapons on the table of options for a way to peace!? The whole problem with our future as a species is under-scored by human over-population. Competition for survival. We used to talk about "zero population growth" in the late 1960's. Since then, the world has almost doubled in size. So much for the U.N. efforts to educate people about birth control, especially in Hindu, Muslim, Judao-Christian societies.

Legend 6 years 18 weeks ago

#5. One method I found is count the number of tower cranes you can see on the horizon. That is the number of multi-story buildings that are currently under construction in view. Typical USA city maybe 6 to 8. Some more, some less. I was in a coastal city in China. From my hotel room window I stopped counting at 200 and was about 2/3 done. Most were probably greater than 30 stories tall.

General Detergent Insurgentcy's picture
General Deterge... 6 years 18 weeks ago

Upton Sinclair was only repeating a long circulated socialist axiom in 1904 when he restated that the Democratic and Republican parties are just two wings of the same bird of prey. Unfortunately, in the US Socialist have been the only political organization to acknowledge the absolute and utter corruption of our political system and the true nature of capitalism. Yes history tells us that the founders were "fearful" of political parties. Since the vast majority of historians work in institutions subservient to the Capitalist Class their interpretation of history almost always serves The Establishment's narrative of history. The question of why the founders did not want political parties is never answered with truth, only with the ruling class Big Lie #1 that they feared for our democracy. It is an answer that was and is still being used to deflect our attention from the fact that the founders and their ilk could then ensure that the masses were organized to take away any opportunity for political participation in The Reformed American Monarchy by shuffling We, The Rabble through the cattle shute of our pseudo democracy being beat with the whips and chains of both wings of what I like to call our Wall Street Owned One Party System (WOOPS). Which could also be described as political muscle on the capitalist steroids of money. Until we on the Left acknowledge that The Democratic Party Wing is more responsible for the destruction Neoliberalism has wrought we shall always be in the clutches of this bird of prey. At best, George H W Bush was only making a half-hearted attempt to carry forward with the new Neoliberal incarnation he was supposed to preside over. Bush was not thinking of me and you he simply recognized Neoliberalism as a long term threat to his place of privilege in hereditary wealth. It took William Jefferson Clinton and the DLC Corporatist Democrat Party to destroy The New Deal and to make manifest the wet dreams of Neoliberalism. Until we recognize that we are the only ones on our side we will continue to be just a sack lunch in the break room of corporatism.

gmiklashek950's picture
gmiklashek950 6 years 18 weeks ago

Another contributor has already done a pretty good job below, however, the standard I use is the size of the human population on earth when all of our ancestors were hunter-gatherers and lived in ecological balance with the rest of living beings on our finite planet: 4,000,000. So, today, as we approach 7,450,000,000, were are 1850 times more populated since the start of the agricultural revolution. How many humans the earth can support in the face of our rapid depletion of non-renewable natural resources is a guess: 2,000,000,000? 50,000,000? What I have discovered is that we have built-in population regulation mechanisms: vulnerability to disease, loss of fertility, and Darwin's "checks to increase": famine, war, plague, etc. In Malthus' words: "misery and vice". I explain the history of crowded animal research and the early discovery of the neuro-endocrine population regulation mechanisms, which ultimately result in pan-species reproductive failure and extinction, in my free on-line e-book, "Stress R Us". Just Google the title for a real eye-opener. For instance, infertility in the US has increased 100% in the past 34 years: 8% in 1982, but 16.7% in 2016. Don't read it just before bedtime, unless you want to be up all night! :)) In summary: ALL of our 'DISEASES OF CIVILIZATION" are due to population density stress. Our contemporary hunter-gatherers have almost none of the diseases that are killing us off by the millions. Stress R Us

HotCoffee's picture
HotCoffee 6 years 18 weeks ago

In the meantime Jerry Brown wants to make Ca. all electric cars...yet I hear nothing about what will happen if there is a solar flare or emp attack.

Chemtrails...are they killing off all the bees and birds, therefore our food supply? What are they doing to the wildlife, rivers, food crops, not to mention the GMO's, we still have PBC's lurking everywhere. Airplanes are never mentioned in the pollution debates.

White women had their tubes tied in hoards during the 60's while the 3rd world populations exploded.

Considering the positions of Bill Gates and his friends do vaccines now include un- mentioned birth control? How many are not taking Xanex or an equvilant? Big Pharma with meds that are worse than the illness they never cure.

Is it really the flu going around or effects of being chem trailed with who knows what almost every day. Where are the marches to stop that? Too busy knitting pussy hats I guess. Nothing like having you priorities straight. I don't think chem trails care if your left or right.

The Guide Stones are still standing, seems like one monument the left & right doesn't care to take down.

Before anyone gets a raise or tax refund utility companies have figured how to gobble it what is there to be depressed about?

ckrob's picture
ckrob 6 years 18 weeks ago

Yes, we have over half our bankruptcies due to sickness but wait, bankruptcies due to education will soon be another major economic factor. Oh wait, student loads don't count so they can't contribute to the bankruptcy statistics. Never mind.

ckrob's picture
ckrob 6 years 18 weeks ago

Taxes are too damn high!

Can we refine that statement? Whose taxes and which taxes? Are taxes on the poor too high or should their taxes be lowered? Are taxes on those who can most easily afford a tax increase where we should look for a greater support of the commons? Let's look at tax regressively before we start throwing $ at the morbidly wealthy. Oops, too late.

Radical's picture
Radical 6 years 18 weeks ago

Dear MaxM: Thank You for your fantastic comments, they came rirht out of my mouth and brain. You ought to be a commentater on MsNbC. Of thats right I forgot ,you aren't an asskissing right-wing neo-liberal weasel.

Kend's picture
Kend 6 years 18 weeks ago

I am surprised it comes to you as a shock that pampered, participation ribbon snowflakes are having a tough time adjusting to a mean, competitive, eat what you kill world. Would would happen to them if they lived in a place where there was no opportunity like the US.

jefflisse's picture
jefflisse 6 years 18 weeks ago

Anthropologists claim that for the last 20,000 years, our brain size has been shrinking. We've supposedly lost about a tennis ball size portion of our brain. They've offered a lot of theories as to why. One of which is called the "Idiocracy theory". According to this theory; back then, only the strong and mentally adaptable survived. Back then, we were in tune with our surroundings and living in harmony with it, we wasted nothing! The ebb and flow, and struggle for survival, kept us both mentally and physically sharp.
Also, according to this theory; there's been a slow but steady "dumbing down" of our species since the last ice age. As our life as a species slowly and steadily got easier, then no longer did only the strongest and smartest survive!
Maybe, Neoliberalism isn't the cause? Maybe its just one of many symptoms, of the already deteriorating mental capacity of humans?

"Chuckling"...Who the fuck knows!?!

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 6 years 18 weeks ago

Neoliberalism? Sorry but the word liberal doesn't fit at all with an economic/social theory that is simply miserable right-wing free market capitalism. Who the hell coined Neoliberal anyway?... the same guy who calls Fascists, Populists? Making as much off the sweat of another persons back while paying them as little as possible, is still, and always has been, a conservative ideology.

Unrestrained capitalism is not a new form of capitalism, its the same sht, just another day of we the people being stripped of control of our own economic destiny by those who would absolutely refuse to work under the same conditions they impose upon us.

Just ask the modern day Mr. Potters, piggish individuals like the Kochs, and Murdoch, if they think there is anything liberal about out of control greed?

Profiting off another person's labor needs to be regulated by those we elect to represent us, whether it be a union rep or government rep.......profits need to be shared when they reach a level agreed to by employees and the capitalist using us for self enrichment.

What if nobody is allowed to gain enough wealth to have more power than our government, meaning those we elect to represent us ? My guess: We'd be represented like citizens in Democratic Socialist countries!...actually represented...heaven forbid, the will of the people.

2950-10K's picture
2950-10K 6 years 18 weeks ago

The capitalists are blaming working class pay raises for the market downturn. In other words they're worried about the rise of a middleclass once again....the threat of Democracy looms heavy on their tiny Fascist brains.

HotCoffee's picture
HotCoffee 6 years 18 weeks ago

You must mean like germany's government is protecting these German women.

German Designer Creates ‘Anti-Rape Pants’ After Spate of Sexual Assaults in Cologne at New Year

Chloe Kerr, The Sun, January 19, 2018

ANTI-rape knickers complete with combination lock and 130-decibel alarm have gone on sale.

Or do you think thats why they voted for Merkle? I hear things are just about the same in Sweden and other northern countries. I actually have friends I've spoken to in a couple of these countries and they don't see it the way you do. Where do you get your info???

You can google the wall around Nancy Pelosi's mansion too...just in case you don't think she wealthy. I wonder how many dark hair, bown eyed people are visiting that her grandson wants to be like...that aren't the servents I mean?

HotCoffee's picture
HotCoffee 6 years 18 weeks ago

George Soros: I won’t ‘butt out’ of Brexit politics

Financier George Soros has vowed not to “butt out” of supporting a campaign to keep the U.K. in the European Union because Brexit is a “tragic mistake.”

The Best for Britain campaign came under fire last week from newspaper articles in the Telegraph and Daily Mail for accepting £400,000 in funding from Soros’s Open Society Foundation. But Soros has hit back in a comment piece for the Mail on Sunday, citing his past as a refugee and his foundation’s work promoting democracy.

The people of Britain voted for Brexit. They voted to leave the European Union. Yet people on the left refuse to accept it, much in the same way American leftists refuse to accept the fact that Trump won the 2016 election.

Left wing billionaire George Soros is even working to reverse Brexit.

Politico reports:

George Soros: I won’t ‘butt out’ of Brexit politics

Financier George Soros has vowed not to “butt out” of supporting a campaign to keep the U.K. in the European Union because Brexit is a “tragic mistake.”

The Best for Britain campaign came under fire last week from newspaper articles in the Telegraph and Daily Mail for accepting £400,000 in funding from Soros’s Open Society Foundation. But Soros has hit back in a comment piece for the Mail on Sunday, citing his past as a refugee and his foundation’s work promoting democracy.

“I am a proud supporter of Best For Britain, a group that wants Britain to remain a member of the European Union. I consider Brexit a tragic mistake,” he wrote.

“Prior to Brexit, Britain enjoyed the best of all possible worlds: it was a member of the European Union without adopting the euro.”

He said he viewed the decision to hold a referendum on EU membership as a mistake. “Egged on by unscrupulous agitators, people use [referenda] to express their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs rather than contemplating the consequences.

The people decided. That should really be the end of it.

I guess it's ok for him to stick his wealth where it doesn't belong.

Oh, and the people of Hungry would like to see him strung up.

HotCoffee's picture
HotCoffee 6 years 18 weeks ago

This country has become a country of Archie Bunkers on one side and Ediths on the other! Both sides Dumb.

Dianereynolds's picture
Dianereynolds 6 years 18 weeks ago


Instead of German women spending £87 on a pair of anti-rape pants, wouldn't just wearing an inexpensive Angela Merkel mask accomplish the same thing?

Howard Laverne Stewart's picture
Howard Laverne ... 6 years 18 weeks ago

The original Constitution of the US should be enforced.

ikeberltersen's picture
ikeberltersen 6 years 18 weeks ago

The expectation of perfection is a diversion to steer people away from the joke of neoliberalism. People who are constantly getting down on themselves for falling short of the neoliberal ideal of personal capitalist virtue will be to occupied to have the resources to question the tenets of the system that they work in, because they might ultimately realize that the entire system is far, far from perfect, that it may just be a dysfunctional and pathological economic system. It's the old strategy of getting people to blame themselves for falling short of expectations when they are working in a system that is itself to blame.

ikeberltersen's picture
ikeberltersen 6 years 18 weeks ago

Hot Coffee: Who decides where Soros' wealth belongs? If he wants to spend his money on what he believes, and express his opinions, that's his business. That's what the Koch bros do, and they have a much better funded and systematic campaign than Soros, although you wouldn't know that if you get your info from Fox News. It never ceases to amaze me how the right wingers obsess over whatever the right wing media tells them to obsess over. Easily manipulated much?

Dianereynolds's picture
Dianereynolds 6 years 18 weeks ago

@#26. Your first couple of sentences says it all. Private money is just that and it applies to all sides of the political aisle.

Glad you put the Koch's in the same class with Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg.

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