Therapy culture not selfish capitalism

In: Uncategorized

17 Jan 2008

Brendan O’Neill has an article on the BBC online website on Oliver James’s The Selfish Capitalist. After letting James explain his argument it quotes myself and Simon Wessely, professor of epidemiological and liaison psychiatry at King’s College, London, giving a contrary view.

I will leave readers to look up my remarks if they want to but Wessely is worth quoting at length:

‘[He] believes that cultural factors, not capitalism itself, have created a situation where more people define themselves as mentally ill.

‘”In this country, rates of actual mental illness are not increasing,” he says. “Studies by the Office for National Statistics, repeated over a decade, do not show an increase in all neurotic disorders, depressive disorders or depression.”

‘”It is true that rates of self-reported symptoms are on the rise,” says Wessely, but that has to be seen in a context where “more human experiences” are seen as illnesses nowadays.

‘”In my trade, for example, states of sadness are now seen as ‘depression’, shyness has become ‘social phobia’, and all sorts of variations in childhood temperament, personality, emotions and behaviour have become characterised as diseases that need treatment, be it Asperger’s autism or ADHD.”

‘Mr Wessely believes that this “therapy culture” means that people now regard as abnormal things that “previous generations regarded as part and parcel of normal variations in personality and emotion”. So what earlier generations saw as an everyday struggle to make ends meet might now be referred to as stress or workaholism.

‘”I would lay the blame less at the door of Margaret Thatcher’s selfish capitalism, and more at the door of Richard and Judy or Oprah,” says Mr Wessely.’