Let’s Talk About Capitalism and Mental Health.
What our economic system is doing to us psychologically.
There are mornings where I’ve woken up, and the feeling of depression and anxiety at the thought of going to work was so all-consuming I actually threw up. It got so bad at one point at my old job that I lost twelve pounds over the course of a little over a week. I was down to barely over ninety pounds.
Even now, working at a job with coworkers who have become like family, I still get that feeling frequently. It’s not as pronounced as it was at the previous job, but it’s become almost like a soft, constant drumbeat there in the back of my mind.
What am I even doing here?
The feeling of being stuck, tied to a job where you make next to nothing living in an area with little employment opportunity can literally suck the life out of you if you let it, and it’s almost impossible not to.
We’ve all felt it. Burnout.
“Burnout” has become so profound and widespread that the World Health Organization has actually classified it as a real occupational phenomenon. According to the WHO:
“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
reduced professional efficacy.
When discussing this phenomenon, it would be irresponsible to do so without acknowledging the role capitalism has played in its development.
As human beings we lead very fleeting lives here on this planet. Yet we spend almost our entire lives as a cog in the rich man’s machine, just so we are able to survive. This idea of working just in order to live has become so engrained in us as a species that we hardly even bother to question it. Instead, our feelings manifest themselves in other ways, like throwing up when we wake up in the morning, or sitting there at our desks feeling an overwhelming sense of worthlessness.
Capitalism isn’t just about economics. Capitalism has evolved into an entire way of life for almost every single group of people on this planet, and we’re suffering for it, mind, body, and soul. All too often we forget that as workers we have cultivated everything around us. We produce the technology, we build the roads, we take care of our sick, and we teach our young but in the end what do most of us even have to show for it?
I am a certified nursing assistant at a local nursing home. My coworkers and I are devoting our entire lives to taking care of the elderly. We are some of the first people they meet when they move in, and we sit beside them, hold their hands, and whisper words of comfort and love to them as their bodies prepare to die. Not to mention the fact that we often are their eyes, ears, and voices in between. Up until recently I had a coworker who works so often and puts herself under so much stress that her doctor is worried she’s going to have a stroke. She’s in her twenties. Why should we have to work 70 or 80 hour work weeks just to be able to afford to travel once a year, or even simply put food on the table for our families?
I am a human being of this planet, and I can’t even begin to describe how upset it makes me that I will probably never get to even a quarter of the places I would like to see. Even the simplest of little pleasures, like going out to eat with friends and loved ones at a restaurant is something that all too many of us can’t afford to do. We are putting everything we have in to this economy, and burnout is simply a natural occurrence within a system that increasingly forces us to see that we are getting almost nothing in return.
Burnout and our mental health within this system has nothing to do with just not wanting to work. But it does have to do with stagnant wages, exhausting hours, fewer and fewer benefits, and a system that is designed to exploit as much as it possibly can out of us and give as little as it can back in return. I love to work, but I do not want my life to revolve around it. It should not determine my value as a person, and it shouldn’t determine yours either.
It is so easy to think of these things and instantly become discouraged. It’s so easy to lie there at night, consider it all, and feel like there is absolutely nothing we can do. But while capitalism may be able to destroy our mental health, it isn’t able to destroy the power of numbers. We have the right and the ability to demand better for society as a whole. It all comes down to culture and whether or not we have the willpower to change it. Hopefully, the time is fast approaching when we do.