Neoliberal Depression

good article on how social problems are medicalized. Instead of recognizing that poverty, grief, unemployment, lack of prospects, etc are ovjectively existing factors that cause a legitimate emotional response, people are told that they are broken and require medication. It’s part of the neoliberal program to convince people to assume individual responsibility for collectively generated problems. It’s not that things are ovjectively shitty for a group of people. It’s that something is wrong with you as an individual. As Paul Verhaeghe says, people begin to feel guilty and any chance of solidarity in the face of exploitation dies. This is profitable on so many levels.


8 thoughts on “Neoliberal Depression”

  1. Didn’t the USSR do the same thing when they treated political dissenters as mentally ill? Bolshevism and Neoliberalism are two denominations of the same religion — the worship of economic forces. For the former the deity is the dialectical forces of history, and for the latter it is the free rein of the market mechanism, but both entail the subjection of man to the power of economics and money.


  2. I don’t think pushing antidepressants on people is pushing individual responsibility for collectively generated problems on them. The whole point of propaganda to put people on antidepressants is that it’s not their fault (or society’s collective fault for that matter), it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain, and it can be fixed with a pill. It’s not putting individual responsibility on people to solve their problems, it’s convincing people that they need to be dependent on pharmaceuticals to solve their problems for them.


    1. “The whole point of propaganda to put people on antidepressants is that it’s not their fault”

      Fault doesn’t matter, the location of the problem is still put in the individual and not in the larger social processes that are destroying their lives.

      It’s like finding someone in a flood and reassuring them it’s not their fault they just have an imbalance in their lungs that doesn’t allow them to breathe while underwater but hey! they can buy all this scuba equipment and then they’ll be good to go!


    2. “It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain, and it can be fixed with a pill.”

      I’m a retired psychiatrist, and your apparently sarcastic statement is half correct.

      If severe psychotic mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder weren’t due in part to chemical imbalances in the brain, then modifying brain chemistry with strong medications such as psychotropics and lithium wouldn’t vastly improve the patients’ metal state, and their ability to deal with life — and such medication obviously does.

      Electroshock therapy, obviously a brain chemistry modifier before it was largely banned, was essential in keeping severely suicidal patients unresponsive to anti-depressants from committing suicide. I remember in mid-1970s California having patients come to my State Psychiatric Hospital who suffered from severe suicidal depression begging me to give them the no-longer-legal electroshock treatments that would have saved their lives.

      Whether mild depression and anxiety are true mental conditions that can be improved with brain-sedating medications like “Valium” and “Xanex,” or are simply realistic responses to the ever-present traumatic forces of life, is a completely other discussion. Such normal responses can be helped with a competent therapist who can understand your feelings and empathize, and offer useful subtle life-style modifications.

      But if you have a severe mental illness: If you hear personal messages from the radio, or you’re sure that you landlord is an agent from the KGB or Venus, or if you feel an overwhelming urge to beat your wife to death because of her lisp — or even if you’re simply so depressed or anxious that your mild anti-depressant/anxiety medication isn’t helping — then trade up from a “therapist” to a “psychiatrist” who’s been medically trained to treat the entire scope of the problem.

      Effective pharmaceutical medication costs so much because the lawyers in the U.S. — to their credit — force so-called Big Pharma to prove that their expensive potions are both effective and reasonably safe. And that’s as it should be.

      Who cares “whose fault” your mental illness is due do? When you find yourself in such a state, you need a physician — not a judge!


  3. I do not think this blaming of individuals for systemic social dysfunction is a neoliberal phenomenon, unless neoliberalism is much older than I understand it to be. The blaming of individuals for social ills in this way dates to at least my teenage years in the early 1960’s.


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