What if mental health issues rise because things are getting worse?
Image Credit: Taken at New York Fashion Week
Life expectancy figures are going into reverse specifically in the UK and US, whilst in many wealthy countries these figures are continuing to rise.
In Britain, life expectancy rises slowed dramatically between 2010 and 2016 placing us at the bottom of the pile of any developed nation. The rate of increase dropped by 90% for women and 76% for men, to 82.8 years and 79.1 years respectively.
A recent Panorama episode described the perfect storm that is the cause of this drop in life-expectancy with a Doctor coining the phrase ‘sh*t life syndrome’ to describe the multiple interconnected factors which are ultimately killing people early in the UK. Sh*t life syndrome resulted from “little job prospects, a poor home life, little money and deteriorating health”.
And there’s little doubt that there are an increasing number of Brits for whom this is reflective of their reality, in real terms wages haven’t grown since 2006, whilst inflation has averaged 3% in five of the last 10 years meaning domestic disposal income has been falling in real terms for over ten years, people have less money which places significant strain on their home life and health and wellbeing. With the gap being filled by the highest levels of household debt ever recorded. As austerity continues to bite and access to health, mental health and welfare provisions locally becomes ever more stretched, with one in four with acute mental health needs unable to access the support they need.
As a result more and more people are seeing the impact of this perfect storm for their health, wellbeing and ultimately their life-expectancy. It’s no surprise that along with falling life expectancy then we have a surge in mental health issues.
The increase in teenage suicides in London of 107% from 2013-14 to 2015-16 has outpaced that across the rest of England and Wales, leading to warnings of a “pressure cooker of conditions” facing young people in the capital. It’s not just the young mental health disorders are on the rise with prescriptions for anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications at an all-time high of 65 million a horrifying 108.6% rise since 2006.
So when doctors talk about the changes in life expectancy they immediately point to real wider social changes which have had a negative impact on many people, but when we talk about the rise in mental health conditions there doesn’t seem to be such a consensus. Articles blaming social media or smart phones seem more common than those that look at the jobs market, the housing market, social mobility or other real world measures of the changes in people’s lives over time.
What if the increase in mental health conditions has more to do with a lacklustre jobs market, real world wage stagnation, zero hours contracts, breakdown of the social contract causing rising loneliness, dystopian politics, the rise of extremism and violent crime, rising air pollution levels, climate change need I go on?
Maybe depression or anxiety are entirely understandable responses to sh*t world syndrome?