England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Covid-19 and the mental health crisis: a self-isolating student writes

According to a 2010 study from the Institute of Health Equity: “Children and adults living in households in the lowest 20% income bracket in Great Britain are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems than those in the highest”.

I come from one of those households. I have suffered from depression, anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder for what seems like my entire life. My brother has faced the same issues, and my dad was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia a few years back, leading to him getting sectioned and placed in an underfunded, overcrowded and otherwise ramshackle mental health ward.

British universities have experienced a skyrocketing rate of students suffering with depression and anxiety. Many students experience breakdowns due to the combined financial and work pressure that we face. Shockingly, from 2017-18, there were 95 suicides on campuses – just over one death every four days! Since becoming a student myself last September, I have seen the scale of this crisis first hand, made much worse by the severe lack of support services to help students through periods of difficulty.

The Guardian columnist George Monbiot once asked: “What greater indictment of a system could there be, than an epidemic of mental illness?”. The answer to this is in the rapidly escalating Covid-19 pandemic, which has exposed the cruel and inept practises of capitalism on a global scale.

The pandemic and the resulting social distancing measures are exacerbating the mental health crisis. The neuroscientist, David Eagleman, writing in the book The Political Self points out how people depend on one another in order to live and survive:

“We are a single vast superorganism, a neural network embedded in a far larger web of neural networks. Our brains are so fundamentally wired to interact that it’s not even clear where each of us begins and ends. Who you are has everything to do with who we are. There’s no avoiding the truth that’s etched into our neural circuitry: we need each other.”

Capitalism, by its very nature, is unable to accept this. By basing itself on the exploitation of working class people and the endless pursuit of profit, it is fundamentally blind to people’s mental and emotional needs. It forces on us this idea that we are isolated from one another, living as isolated individuals.

Experiencing the issues I have was what inspired me to join and get active in Socialist Alternative – not because I saw it as a ‘cure’ for my mental health issues, but because I could see – as can many other working-class young people – that capitalism will not deliver real care and attention for the mental wellbeing of the majority in society.

Getting out and getting active, taking part in the struggles of students and workers on the streets and on the picket lines, has not only helped me, but made me realise how the fight for real mental health services is completely bound up with the fight for a socialist world, where the wealth and resources of society are geared to meeting the needs of the majority and not an exploiting capitalist elite.

In response to the Covid-19 outbreak, students and workers must unite and fight. We say:

  • Refund all fees for cancelled lectures. Abolish student debt and invest in free education.
  • Give full pay for all young workers on zero-hours and precarious contracts.
  • Fight for fully-funded mental health support in all schools, colleges and universities. Kick the market out of education and fund this publicly.
  • The trade unions must link up with the local support networks, providing for people in self-isolation.

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