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.