Researchers: Mental Illness Is Connected To Economic Exploitation And Hardship

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Written by Ann Brown
mental illness
Researchers: Mental Illness Is Connected To Economic Exploitation And Hardship. Photo by kevin turcios on Unsplash

No matter how strong a person is, mental illness can be exacerbated by the stress of economic hardship and employment exploitation.

Back in the 1950s, political philosopher and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, author of the revolutionary book “The Wretched of the Earth” (1961), was one of the earliest psychiatrists to connect racism with mental illness. Today, an increasing number of states have declared racism a public health crisis.

A new paper published in the journal Epidemiology looked at how mental illness can be exacerbated by stress and confirmed that the more a boss is exploiting a worker, the worse it is for that worker’s mental health.

Researchers sought to measure the relationship between mental illness and degree of exploitation, defined as the value produced by a worker’s labor that is not returned to that worker, American socialist quarterly magazine Jacobin reported. The study found a strong connection between the two.

The title of the paper, “The Serpent of their Agonies: Exploitation As Structural Determinant of Mental Illness” is a reference to a passage written by German philosopher Karl Marx. According to Marx, exploitation was capitalism’s engine. “To the extent that exploitation both exacerbates mental illness and is endemic to capitalism, solutions to public mental health crises must involve anti-capitalist politics,” Jacobin reported.

The study found a strong correlation between exploitation and mental illness, according to Seth J. Prins, lead author and an assistant professor of epidemiology and sociomedical sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

While Prins’ study found a strong connection between work exploitation and mental illness, studies on the correlation between income and mental illness have been mixed. Some studies show that lower income is associated with mental illness. Others have not found this to be true.

A 2011 study, “Relationship Between Household Income and Mental Disorders,” found that a decrease in household income was associated with an increased risk of incident mood, anxiety, or substance use disorders in comparison with respondents with no change in income, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported. The study was written by Dr. Jitender Sareen of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada; Tracie O. Afifi, Ph.D.; Katherine A. McMillan; and Gordon J. G. Asmundson, Ph.D.

“Participants with household income of less than $20,000 per year were at increased risk of incident mood disorders during the three-year follow-up period in comparison with those with income of $70,000 or more per year,” the authors reported.

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This does not bode well for Black workers, who tend to earn less than their white counterparts.

African-American women work in lower-paying jobs than Black men or white women. In 2018, Black women working full time earned 61.9 cents for every dollar that white men earned, American Progress reported. Black men, meanwhile, earned 70.2 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and white women earned 78.6 cents.

Read more: 25 Percent Of Black People Killed By Police Have Mental Illness: 3 Things You Need To Know