21st Century Britain: A Culture of Anxiety – Xavy Bull
A quarter of all people in the UK have experienced a mental health problem in the past year. And am increasing proportion of thee are teenagers. I’m sure some of you in the audience have also been affected by these problems in some way. These may be eating, Depression, OCD, PTSD, post-natal depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and substance caused psychological problems or anxiety. Poor mental health has become one the of the largest problems in our country. I believe this is a problem which drastically needs to be addressed. Can we do it and how do we do it?
To look at mental health let us focus on anxiety as it effects the greatest number of people.
Anxiety is very personal and manifests itself in numerous ways, with only core parallels between cases. It is this which makes it so difficult to treat. You cannot simple throw drugs or a singular cure at the problem: this will not work- yet we try it at the moment.
There is not one thing that needs to be addressed when it comes to mental health; there is no one thing to blame. This is especially frustrating for the people around those effected- mental health problems can tear families apart to the same extent that any other illness can.
But for society at large it means the problems of mental health have become a taboo subject they are too difficult to understand.
It just seems as though the person themselves are acting strangely,
However, does this mean we should blame the person themselves? Of course, not, it is almost as if they are being controlled by a cruel part of the subconscious, or at least this is the way it has been described to me by those suffering.
These illnesses severely decrease quality of life for some life even becomes unbearable. In fact, more than 90% of suicide victims in the UK have had a psychological problem. I would therefore suggest the problem is great enough to merit stopping.
Yet even if we ignore suicide rates, the pain caused for the individual either in the form of self-harm or even the state of anxiety itself should encourage action. Especially if we regard the state as having a duty to protect its citizens from harm and illness.
Some may say that given those effected are not being harmed by an external force but by their mind the state has not place to intervene. Yet this view is archaic and ignorant. When someone has a condition of poor mental health the person acting inappropriately- aggressively towards themselves or another is not the same person that existed before the mental health problem as suggested. As if external force is acting.
There are a few which suggest that a lot of mental health illnesses do not contain a direct threat to life. Anxiety itself does not lead to that person’s death. Of course, it can lead to suicidal tendencies as suggested. None the less, living in a state of anxiety makes functioning as a normal citizen difficult; this benefits neither society nor the individual.
According to Harvard Medical School 18% of employees in the US have been forced to take time off work due to mental health problems. It is fair to assume similar statistics over here. If we take this to be true, the effects on society should be seen to be great enough to require tackling the problem of mental health issues.
The consequences mentioned are not the direct result of the illness but behavioral side effects. So, if we can stop these tendencies and suppress the harm caused to the individual and society everything is good. Or at least this is the current rational.
If you go to the NHS with a mental health issue and do not have suicidal tendencies, the best you can hope for as an immediacy is a diagnosis. This is because the effective treatment for mental health is very gradual and time consuming. Many visits must be made to psychologists to retrain one’s brain. This is extremely expensive especially when we need to treat hundreds of thousands a year.
Hence, suppressing the effects is the only feasible solution. This is what currently happens. After waiting maybe 6 months for an appointment a mental health patient will be offered psychiatric drugs. antidepressants, antipsychotics or mood stabilisers may be offered. Yet this is not an effective method because it does not cure the problem- people become reliant on drugs. But at least it’s cheaper.
Actually, is it?
This kind of treatment makes up 12% of the NHS’ budget. With the overall direct costs of mental health in England are now around £22.5 billion a year. This is only treating a very very few. Mass treatment would be too expensive. Preventative methods then may be a far cheaper solution. To see we must look at the causes of mental health issues.
We in the UK live in an extremely westernized culture controlled by our technology. The pace of life we live is far higher than it was even ten years ago. This is the cause of mental health issues. Firstly, our work lives and school lives are focused entirely on the future. I’m sure everyone in this room is constantly being reminded of university and what they need to do to achieve getting there. ‘You must do this…’ ‘It is important you do this…’ ‘If you want to do this, you must…’ etc our whole lives are centered around getting somewhere else. We are always being told our actions have huge ramifications. Granted this is because society offers so many opportunities but we are no longer satisfied with who and where we are. Just look at social media everyone else life is perfect and, well unlucky you have failed. Or at least this is what social media portrays. I’m sure everyone is aware of the dangers of mass media in fashion and modelling, projecting an unnatural body image onto both men and women; this was a hotly debated tropic round 5 years ago and luckily things are changing. But the problem is now social media. No one chooses to put their awful setbacks online, only their successes or fun. People perceive themselves to always be behind the game line. Leading to a state of stress in which people are constantly treading water trying to catch up with those who aren’t even ahead of them. we make this far worse by spending all our free time on Instagram and snapchat which is not relaxing but subconsciously indoctrinating you into anxiety, in the way demonstrated above.
When people begin to understand this, and focus not 10, 5 or 3 years in the future but on tomorrow and today. When they begin to see that the lives of everyone else are not perfect but like their, the chances of getting anxiety will decrease without billions of pounds being spent. This is the only way to curb the growing threat of anxiety. Preventative methods are the only way forward.
2 thoughts on “21st Century Britain: A Culture of Anxiety – Xavy Bull”
A really good read Xavy. Here are a couple of books that may be of interest to anyone else interested in the topic:
1) The Gene: An Intimate History
This is written by a leading cancer surgeon that has a history of psychosis in his family and looks into the possible genetic links to mental health issues.
2) Anatomy of an epidemic by Robert Whitaker is an interesting account of the huge rise in mental health diagnosis in America in the last two decades; the book ponders whether it is a genuine phenomenon or a tale spun by pharmaceutical companies to make money and please share holders.