As we now prepare to enter another national lockdown, mental health will undoubtedly suffer for many. Yet before it even begins, we’ve already seen over one university student death a week so far this semester, as reported by a recent article from The Tab, with all tied to mental health or drug use. The Tory government has pushed students back into the stress of university studies, in a time of social and economic crisis, when mental health services are experiencing weeks-long waiting times and high costs for private care is a direct cause of such a mental health crisis.
In fact, the worsening mental health crisis is directly tied to the current crisis of capitalism. The continuing stress caused by coronavirus has been caused by capitalist governments choosing profits over lives, with the first lockdown being cut short to force people back to work and back onto the highstreet. Tory schemes such as “eat out to help out”, designed to boost business profits, have been linked to a fifth of summer coronavirus cases. Forcing students into university halls – a decision stemming directly from the marketisation of education – has undoubtedly wreaked havoc on the mental health of young people as well.
However, as we all know, the mental health crisis precedes Covid-19. Issues such as the quality and cost of student housing, inadequate student loans and in some cases balancing a part-time job with the stresses of university studies invariably lead to a worsening of mental health. Furthermore, what do students have to look forward to when studies end? A job market worse than the post-2008 period; zero-hour contracts and precarious work; spending half of your income on rent – with upwards of £40k in student loan debt to boot?
Feelings of stability, empowerment, and contentment are vital to mental wellbeing. And these cannot be achieved within a capitalist system based on precarity, uncertainty, and an endless drive for profit. The ruling class – and their mouthpieces in the media or academia – can no longer pretend that mental health problems are a mere result of ‘chemical imbalances’.
Yet what do students get to help them through this crisis? Students are likely accustomed to endless emails about mental health assistance during this crisis. We see a barrage of ‘self-care’ articles suggesting how we can keep our screen time down; take a bubble bath; or be nice to each other, in order to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. Yet the underlying causes of mental health issues cannot be solved by any of these.
Mental health funding has already seen 8% cuts year-on-year since 2011. After the pandemic, the NHS will be forced to pinch the pennies even more and make further cuts. Long waiting lists for limited ranges of therapy will become even longer. As private mental health services increase in demand as people look to skip waiting times, its price will become increasingly unaffordable for even more. As the causes of mental health issues skyrocket, the means of solving it drop like a stone.
The only way to end the damages capitalism brings to mental health is to end capitalism itself. Capitalism’s endless drive for profits over wellbeing cannot be fixed by this or that change to it. We must demand fully-funded and democratically-run mental health services – something that capitalism can no longer provide us. But even this is merely a sticking plaster on a bullet wound. A true fight for mental health means a fight for an end to capitalism, and with it the endless insecurities that it creates.