Mental health and the global economy.

Mental health concerns are on the rise, in Australia and elsewhere. Every year, at least one in five Australians experiences a mental illness of some sort. Gaining awareness in the mainstream are the more palatable of illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

You know, the ones that don’t write you off as ‘crazy’ and ‘someone to stay away from’.

Several months ago, the World Health Organization determined that, ‘depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion every year’. Those who struggle may feel disempowered; some even fall into poverty. Because when depression and anxiety rates go up, productivity goes down.

I know the drill quite well. One day you are contemplating your life’s meaning and sense of accomplishment up to this point, and the next you’re spiralling downward into a bleak routine of nothingness. Maybe you still show your face at work, but you don’t get nearly as much actual work done and you certainly don’t enjoy it. Perhaps the activities that used to give you pleasure no longer fulfil your needs.

People have, presumably, always experienced mental health concerns, so why are they now on the rise? (PSA to contrarians, WHO also states that depression and anxiety increased by almost 50% from 1990 to 2013.)

One plausible cause is that we are overworked, with hourly employees clocking more time on the job than ever before. And we experience a tremendous amount of work-related pressure. In this day and age, jobs are not just a way to make a living. They are considered the ultimate way to mark your place within the world, to pursue your creative and intellectual dreams

For many, career is synonymous with self-worth. Fulfillment in the workplace mirrors fulfillment in life. It’s no wonder we’re stressed, fatigued and dissatisfied. It’s all work and minimal play these days. But even with some play, the daily grind can be draining.

It can lead to stagnation. Employees become stuck in their working class, unable to move up the corporate ladder or pursue new fields.

Now that some head honchos are catching on to this growing trend and it’s link to fiscal issues, they are deciding to do something about it. Sad that it must come to this…

No one cares about mental health until money comes into the picture. But better late and with questionable intentions than never, I suppose.

So here we are, wondering what to do next. If you are familiar with the world of mental health and wellness, you may have some ideas. ‘Meditate!’ you shout at your computer screen. ‘Smoke weed!’ ‘Move to an ashram and leave the corporate world behind!’

Good guesses, sweet ones, and pretty appealing too. But not everyone can up and move, leaving their only source of income behind.

What we need to do first and foremost is fight. Fight for the mental healthcare that has been lacking for so long. (And really, when you think about it, impacting the economy for a long while as well).

Yes, I am referring to US President Ronald Reagan and his complete wipeout of mental health institutions, which rendered many patients to a life of homelessness. Americans have been crying about the woes of this oversight for years.

We also need to take a hard look at who is experiencing mental illness. Contrary to popular opinion, depression and anxiety are not strictly diseases of the petty and privileged. These illnesses know no race, age, class, gender, sexuality, income level, etc. etc.

That being said, current rates are higher among women, but then again that’s in terms of diagnoses - not all experience symptoms. Additionally, there is less funding towards mental health care in low income areas (although not much in general), so people living in those areas may also go undiagnosed.

If the governments want to enact short-term change, they will initiate workplace wellness programs. In the long-term, the way we work and live needs to shift in a major way. I won’t lie and say I know what that should look like, but it’s pretty apparent that what we’re doing now isn’t working. So for the sake of the global economy but, more importantly, our sanity - let’s shake up the modern day workforce. 

QUINCY MALESOVAS

Quincy Malesovas