For nearly two decades, Big Pharma commercials have falsely told Americans that mental illness is associated with a chemical brain imbalance, but the truth is that depression and suicidality are associated with poverty, unemployment, and mass incarceration. And the truth is that American society has now become so especially oppressive for young people that an embarrassingly large number of American teenagers and young adults are depressed and suicidal.
In November of 2014, the U.S. government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued a press release titled “Nearly One in Five Adult Americans Experienced Mental Illness in 2013.” This brief press release provides a snapshot of the number of Americans who are suicidal, depressed, and mentally ill, and it bemoans how many Americans are not in treatment. However, excluded from SAMHSA’s press release—yet included in the lengthy results of SAMHSA’s national survey—are economic, age, gender, and other demographic correlates of serious mental illness, depression, and suicidality (serious suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts). It is these demographic correlates that have political implications.
These lengthy results, for example, include extensive evidence that involvement in the criminal justice system (such as being on parole or probation) is highly correlated with suicidality, depression, and serious mental illness. Yet Americans are not told that preventing unnecessary involvement with the criminal justice system—for example, marijuana legalization and drug use decriminalization—could well prove to be a more powerful antidote to suicidality, depression, and serious mental illness than medical treatment.
Also, the survey results provide extensive evidence that unemployment and poverty are highly associated with suicidality, depression, and serious mental illness. While correlation is not the equivalent of causation, it makes more sense to be further examining variables that actually are associated with suicidality, depression, and serious mental illness rather than focusing on variables such as chemical imbalances which are not even correlates (seeAlterNet January 2015). These results beg questions such as: Does unemployment and poverty cause depression, or does depression make it more likely for unemployment and poverty, or are both true?
These results make clear that suicidality, depression, and mental illness are highly correlated with involvement in the criminal justice system, unemployment, and poverty, and occur in greater frequency among young people, women, and Native Americans.
Shouldn’t researchers be examining American societal and cultural variables that are making so many of us depressed and suicidal? At the very least, don’t we as a society want to know what exactly is making physically healthier teenagers and young adults more depressed than senior citizens?
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