The Emerging Mental Health Dilemma: A By-product of, and a Disincentive for Capitalism

By Sharif Ullah

The notion of mental health and its criticality is enticing the attention of the contemporary intelligentsia for its tendency of storming the world societies irrespective of continent, creed, and caste.  The developed societies are in the process of comprehending the challenge to a greater extent and moving towards counter measures in the form of establishing social, recreational, and medical facilities for their communities. However, mental health is a relatively novice phenomenon and is at the awareness level for developing societies hance, public opinion is still swinging between denial and acceptance.  By and large, the modern-day capitalist world is at the brink of a unique challenge as the problem is deeply rooted into the economic dynamics and current social order.

Capitalism has faced numerous challenges and came out victorious in its evolutionary history, primarily because of its popular agenda of wealth creation, collection and ownership which is very dear to the nature of the mankind. The developing societies where capitalism is relatively new and yet to mature, are rapidly transforming from traditional/ agrarian order to pure market economy. The traditional/agrarian order had its own hardships and sufferings however, the dwellers were enjoying a relatively peaceful mindset where their entire world was confined to a limited geographic region and even for some people confined to the village.  The living standards were almost uniform for both haves and have nots and the apparent status indicators between the two groups used to be insignificant.   The basic survival needs of food, shelter, and clothing provision for everyone was the collective responsibility of larger joint family system. The level of contribution of an individual to the family and consumption of the resources was unequal depending on the rank and status of the individual in the larger family. A strong sense of the fortune prevailed, and individuals had a solid belief that their rank, status, workload, and position in the society and in the family is in the hands of heavenly forces. Therefore, an individual had a peaceful mind with limited parameters for thinking thus, no turmoil and storm in brain.

The modern capitalism is bulldozing these structures and orders at a very fast pace not sparing a time for these societies to develop new structures to replace the generations old social scaffoldings. As a result, these societies have been abruptly thrown into a transition phase where old structures have been crashed and new replacements are yet to be conceived. The multiple opportunities of wealth creation, accumulation and ownership has instigated the individual to diverge from collectivism to individualism, resulting into the preference for micro families and single life. The advancements in information technology are magnifying the opportunities and visualizing a huge playing field beyond the physical boundaries.  However, these opportunities are coupled with certain challenges like concentration of wealth in few hands, widening gap between haves and have nots, rapid division of the societies into socioeconomic classes and status brackets, brutal competition for wealth collection and upward movement in the class and status classifications, psycho-economic tougher and rougher working conditions and fear of unemployment and losing. Above all, in the absence of new professional culture and structures, capitalism is banking on the broken old edifices for some of its operations. Hence, the wealth generating entities in these societies are operating somewhere in-between professional organizations and traditional/agrarian structures where characteristics of the old wine is available in new bottles!  The overall scenario creates a sense of uncertainty and obtrusiveness in the environment which exerts enormous pressure on the minds of the individuals across the socio-economic classes, age, and gender groups. Ultimately, this relentless pressure is igniting   metal health issues and swiftly spreading across the population.

The fast-paced intrusion of capitalism into the traditional/agrarian societies is contributing to the incubation of mental health challenges which is equally disastrous for capitalism itself.  A population suffering from mental health issues will certainly face the dearth of competent brains to conceive brilliant ideas of wealth generation and a drought of efficient and capable hands to physically produce more wealth.  It will not stop here, rather it will negatively impact the market, where an underperformed population will receive lower reward which will lead to the lower purchasing power which is the lifeline of capitalism to further prosper. Hence, for its own prosperity and further expansion, capitalism itself should take a lead role to combat the fast-growing mental health challenge in these societies, both at overt and covert levels.  At the overt level, promulgation and implementation of state laws, public services interventions, social securities, and contribution of business and non-government entities are important.  At the covert level, reforms are needed within the processes of capitalism at the very grass-root level of wealth generating entities. Improving the working conditions, balancing the work and private time for the work force, ensuring professional and well-being initiatives and physical health protections are some of the interventions that can certainly contribute to combat the mental health challenge among the work force.

The contributor is a member of teaching faculty at the Professional Development Center North (PDCN) of Institute for Educational Development (IED) Aga Khan University Pakistan. 

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