The topic of race has heated up in the United States. What doesn’t get as much attention is the subject of mental health in relation to racism and inequality. As an article in Truthout recently reported, psychological harm is greater when the inequality gap is greater. If you or anyone you know in the Westside Cleveland area would like to discuss mental health with a professional, please contact us at the Center for Effective Living. We’re here to help.
According to Truthout:
“More unequal societies make us more aware of class and status — people become more concerned with issues of superiority and inferiority and worry more about how others judge them. Social life becomes more stressful and people start to withdraw from it. As inequality undermines confidence and feelings of self-worth, mental health inevitably deteriorates.”
There’s a whole body of research to back this up. Wilkinson, along with social epidemiologist Kate Pickett, have been writing on the harmful effects of societal inequality for quite some time. In their widely acclaimed book, The Spirit Level, published in 2009, the two authors documented how individuals in societies with larger income gaps are more likely to experience a very wide range of health and social problems.
Of course, the point is not to discount the impact of biological, genetic, or personal factors affecting mental health, but rather, to acknowledge the social, political, and economic factors as well.
Some level of economic inequality has always existed within our economic system — it’s stitched into the very fabric of capitalism. But since the Occupy movement brought economic inequality to the forefront of the national conversation in 2011, awareness of this glaring phenomenon has grown. In 2017, when Oxfam presented the stunning finding that just eight men owned as much wealth as the bottom half of the population — 3.5 billion people — the topic began to really grab headlines. The focus on inequality has largely rested on the economic and political implications: As wealth concentrates at the top, so does power, and this has all sorts of harmful consequences for democracy. But researchers like Wilkinson and Pickett have demonstrated that the effects of income inequality go far beyond the economic or political realm.
“In The Spirit Level, we presented evidence showing that less equal countries, like Britain and the United States, have higher levels of homicide … lower levels of child wellbeing, weaker community life,” Wilkinson told Truthout. “There are more drug problems, there is mental illness, there’s worse physical health — a whole range of apparently unrelated outcomes are worse in less equal societies.”
And it’s not just those who are on the lower rungs of the economic ladder — income inequality affects everybody in society. So that means that in highly unequal societies, it’s not just that the gradient of problems within that society are more dramatic, but that the average level of problems in those societies is higher than in a less unequal society. Everyone does worse when inequality is higher. So even rich, well-educated and affluent people in countries like the United States do worse than their counterparts in more equal societies like Japan or the Scandinavian countries.
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