All in the Mind
People travelling on the Hammersmith Line can read the slogan on this month’s cover of the Socialist Standard, painted on the side of the overhead motorway, every time their train passes between Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park stations. Very few of them even notice it as they worry about what the day at work will bring, try to relax from the tensions of that day on the way home, or try to “get away from it all” for a few minutes by turning to the sports pages of their papers.
To-day, although great advances have been made in eliminating or controlling illnesses like TB, one-third of all National Health Service beds are filled by people with mental illnesses. In addition, over 20,000 go to hospital for the whole day each day for treatment, plus nearly a quarter of a million who visit out-patient departments to see a psychiatrist. In fact, mental illness is the greatest single medical problem to-day. In publishing these figures, the National Association for Mental Health makes the point that they only represent identified (their italics) mental ill health which is being treated in some way.
The most usual reasons for mental illness are stated to be “the stress placed on us by an urban, competitive society. Stress is an integral part of our jobs, of growing up, of marriage, of being poor, of bereavement”. The case-histories quoted vary as widely as the man who could not cope when he was “overpromoted”, to the frustrated woman who became chronically “over houseproud”; from whose who resort to drink and drugs (in themselves an opting out of the “real” world) to the inadequate sexual partner.
The world of “Pop” has just mourned the death at the age of 42 of its idol, Elvis Presley. Before him, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland died in similar circumstances. Nearer home, Tony Hancock, whose sad-faced comedy always had relevance to the day-to-day life of the “ordinary” man, could not bear the pressures of his own life. Their names were famous; their untimely end mourned by many, Their deaths have been attributed to the same basic reason as that of the man next door who could not face his problems any longer. Although by the money standards set by to-day’s society they were at opposite ends of the scale, they had this in common—they succumbed because they could not deal, or come to terms, with the pressures if the system under which we live—capitalism.
There is a pleasant Jewish greeting “I wish you well”, but we say to you, fellow members of the working class: while you have capitalism, it will remain a wish. When we have got rid of the world-wide system responsible—directly or indirectly—for almost all the mental illness to-day, there will no longer be any need for “Mental Health Week” or, indeed, for the National Association for Mental Health. Then, and only then, will that greeting have real meaning.