Poverty as precursor to mental illness

In most of the western world we have a prevailing societal model of self-reliance and personal responsibility. It’s easy to see the limitations of this model – people get old and sick, most people have emotional or other vulnerabilities and significant periods in our life we are just unable to protect ourselves. To engender protected states we implemented a society. Arguably society – and the state – has often been a mechanism that’s worse than what it sought to cure. Many states were predatory to its citizens but we are assuming less of that in modern, developed countries. It has become fairly normal to rely on the existence of a somewhat benevolent state to ascertain fire protection services, ambulances, education, border security, disaster relief, product safety, military protection, law enforcement, common justice, medical care and a range of other services.

Sometimes we except to much of the state, and certain models of care become fiscally unsustainable, but that is rare. More frequently off late the state loses out to private interests, and the state deteriorates. Privatization is a popular hobby of right wing politicians, as the process of privatizing essential services maintains and cultivates necessity and generally comes with a sharply increased price tag. Generally, despite the claims of politicians, privatization increases the cost and price of services substantially.

In western Europe it was normal to assume the state would collect taxes and uses these taxes to guarantee a certain minimum standard of living. Contrary to a more austere anglosaxon model Social Democracies in western Europe for a long time maintained a welfare state model.

The most common alternative for a welfare state can be best described as an efficiency based model. As all efficiently based ideals go, efficiency decreases resilience. Resilient systems are generally not efficient and efficient systems are generally not resilient. The consequence of cost cutting to achieve goals of efficiency has created formerly developed societies that have become acutely fragile. This is most self-evident in The United States and the United Kingdom.

The claim of efficiency becomes a deceitful claim. In the long run claimed efficient states are not truly efficient as efficiency often involves postponing costs to a future date, often at severe detriment to society. By decreasing income of the people (generally by attritioning away minimum wages, labor protection, disability, pensions or welfare) people are less able to weather disasters, eat healthy foods and experience what they perceive to be a meaningful life.

If we are truly intent to have a society that functions, we bear responsibility to gauge all costs in the relevant near future. If certain policies make people sick, society should be made to invest to mitigate these negative effects. Large populations of sick people is undesirable and it reduces the collective productivity of society. It doesn’t matter that some would prefer not to shoulder the costs of mitigating sickness and infirmity of whatever kind (obesity, infectious diseases, teen pregnancy, pathological narcotics trade and consumption, smoking or alcohol addiction, unsafe sex…) since we can’t be expected as a society to consistently honor the desires of psychopaths.

If we are to have a society than societies resources must be assumed to be directed at improving society in scientifically objective means.

Taking all these reasonable premises, we need starting to ask ourselves a serious question – as increasing numbers of people are living in formerly developed countries under hopeless conditions, with deplorably low incomes, what are the effects of endemic poverty in terms of chronic mental disease? We know that trauma can induce mental disease. We know that certain infections (such as toxoplasmosis gondii) can induce a range of mental sickness. We know that sexual abuse is a very strong indicator for the emergence of quite severe and lifelong mental illness.

Mental sickness costs society a lot of money in the long run. We can pretend that isn’t the case, but allowing the systematic infliction of severe trauma on its citizens reduces the general ability of society to function productively as a whole.

Quite often society responds with considerable ingenuity and determination to classical and recognizable threats. If a foreign army invades, our societal models are vectored to assertively deal with any aggressors. If certain minorities in society spread terror, infectious disease, the predatory exploitation of children, highly addictive narcotic substances the response is invariably coherent and determined.

If however we face abstract or ideologically complex threats (climate change, peak oil, human trafficking) response is generally more lackluster. The best way to paralyze a response to a dangerous development is to have any response be a threat to existing income models.

Society induces trauma. This is a sad case. Most states have become routine purveyors of extreme and quite vicious forms of violence. Likewise many state apparatuses and institutions in the developed world thrive on recalcitrance, cruelty and arrogance. Look at the prison industrial apparatus to have a good idea how far things have escalated in some countries.

There is one major source of long-lasting trauma in society, and that is the one caused by poverty and lack of opportunity. It is well known that people who endured economic crisis become severely and easily diagnosed traumatic sufferers. The behavior of people who lived through the worst effects on any economic crisis is striking – these people become more cautious, they consume less, they plan for the worst, they have less children and treat other people differently.

The worst off can be argued to suffer lifelong trauma. The trauma induced by years of poverty can be a lifelong affliction. Sadly the psychiatric profession is not ready to accept the reality that poverty is an actual precursor to disability. To subject people to a system that infuses them with an adequate standard of living costs more in the long run in terms of health care implications. To subject people to all kinds of bureaucratic abuse adds to the trauma. Of course people with conservative or other right-leaning beliefs would deny this under the flimsy figleaf of personal responsibility, but such a claim is pointless and useless.

We as a society must affirm the ill effects of impoverishment and austerity. If we can evidence those ill effects are worse than the money we save on welfare, disability, pensions, social safety nets, we should force the psychiatric sciences to speak out with authority against those policies. To erode a society by short term thinking and reduce any underclasses in society to a life of indignity, fear, dependence and infirmity is not just stupid, it is arguably criminal and immoral. There’s no amount of prozac or prisons or police we can throw at this problem. The trauma induced by people perceiving themselves as lesser human beings will cost humanity a lot more in the long run.