Today, people around the country will be asked to turn to their friends, family and work colleagues and check in on their mental health - R U OK Day has arrived, encouraging people to start a conversation that could change someone’s life.
With growing awareness about our mental health crisis, our responsibility to look after those around us are more important than ever. It is up to all of us be there for those who are suffering.
Despite the value of R U OK Day however, it is important we realise these sorts of individual approaches are not going to solve the larger problem. Much of our depression problem is social, and therefore the solutions must be social too.
For example, a recent survey found that increased work stress and insecurity are driving up depression rates. The survey "found a significant decline in workplace wellbeing with workers being driven to despair as more pressure is put on increasing productivity and jobs become increasingly insecure.”
We see similar trends in different areas. Financial insecurity for University students for example is causing significantly increased stress, which has a strong correlation with depression. The threat of climate change and future economic insecurity is leading to worry, pessimism and depression in many young people. Look around and we can see underlying social causes for many of the people who are suffering from mental illness.
While it would be easy to blame individual workplaces, particular economic crises, or specific large issues (ie. climate change) for these connections, the cause goes much deeper than that. These factors all have one common thread - our culture.
'It is up to all of us be there for those who are suffering'
Our dominant culture is one based on the idea of ‘market fundamentalism’ - a story that tells us that the market and it’s ‘produce and consume at all costs’ mantra can solve all social, economic and political problems.
It turns us into economic beings above all else - ones who’s sole purpose is to be economically competitive and to consume.
This is perhaps strongest in the workplace, where we are constantly forced to compete to prove our worth to our bosses and our organisations. Recent decades have seen a significant increase in working hours, all driven by the need to produce more and more.
This constant drive for productivity has seen the workplace has be “overwhelmed by a mad, Kafkaesque infrastructure of assessments, monitoring, measuring, surveillance and audits, centrally directed and rigidly planned, whose purpose is to reward the winners and punish the losers.” It’s no wonder we’re all feeling increased insecurity and stress while we are at work.
When we leave work it hits us as well. Our leisure and family lives are dominated by consumerism, where we are told consuming is the most important thing to make us happy. Consumerism replaces the things that nurture happiness - in particular our friends and family - in turn leaving us feeling unhappy.
'It’s a big problem, but one that we must face up to'
Given our largely social nature, it’s no wonder this has lead to what Richard Eckersley calls our Western Cultural Crisis. People are angry and anxious with what’s happening in our world, deeply concerned about the dominance of excessive greed, selfishness, consumerism and competition in our society.
Our focus on work, productivity and economic growth is disconnecting us from the things that matter in our lives - our friends, family, society and the environment. It is fueling a depression crisis as we become more socially isolated from the people around us.
It’s a big problem, but one that we must face up to. When we do though the solutions become easier to see. It is about a re-imagination of what is important to us, a shift in the values that underpin how we work together. The evidence suggests that most us already know this - we’re already sick of the culture that is bringing us down. It’s just time for us to act upon it.
R U OK Day is great for dealing with people who are already in the depths of depression. A conversation can change a life. But as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. And it is time to come to terms with reality that it is our culture that is causing much of this problem.
If we really want to tackle this crisis we need to look at the bigger picture of how we operate as a society.