Mental Illness & Social Class

Response to:
Ann Vander Stoep & Bruce Link: “Social Class, Ethnicity, And Mental Illness: The Importance Of Being More Than Earnest”

I love this article because it proved something I’ve thought for an awful long time–that the Irish are, in fact, more sane than Americans, as opposed to the common myth of it being the other way around.

“Massachusetts in the mid[-]19th century was regarded as a beacon of intellectual pursuit and social reform” (8). This kind of sad. I’ve long since been a fan of this particular period. (And have a bit of personal pride in it, since I’m from New England and some of those involved in the so-called “intellectual revolution” could very well have been ancestors of mine, those who weren’t busy colonizing (the WASPs) or drinking (the Irish), that is.) I wonder what Ralph Waldo Emerson or Henry David Thoreau thought of all this nonsense. One of my favorite Emersonisms, from “Self-Reliance”, which he wrote in 1844, says: “I hope in these days we have seen the last of conformity and consistency.” I wonder if he knew the said “conformity and consistency” was being deliberately created and sustained by the powers-that-be with ridiculous ideas like Jarvis’ (not to mention eugenics) in order to weed out the deviants.

“English asylums were beautifully landscaped to promote healing through exposure to tranquil and aesthetic environs and offered ‘moral therapy,’ combining regiments of exercise, good food, considerate treatment, work, and amusement, which would appeal to patients’ highest levels of humanity” (2). This sounds fantastic. I’m so glad I didn’t know about this when, several years ago, when suffering wretchedly from my own emotional instability, I wanted nothing more than to check myself into Butler (the local madhouse, as I fondly refer to them as) and not deal with the pish-tosh of the outside world. If I had, oh boy, my tolerance for my then current life would have plummeted even more.

But… this reminds me of a thing around the same time period (a little later, perhaps), the emergence of Coney Island and subsequent creation of Central Park. The former was created as a way for people to let off steam and be “deviant” (i.e., human) when not in the work-a-day world, with its many adult-minded amusements (think early carnival attractions, think burlesque, think sideshow). The upper class of New York got really pissed at this, seeing it as the utter decline of our great society, and this one guy had the idea for Central Park, as a way for *civilized* (i.e., privileged snots) to “let off steam” in a “cultured” and “appropriate” way ((fake) nature being the pristine and quiet way to do that, of course). The English madhouses sound exactly like that–“highest levels of humanity” and all that bollocks. So, while very nice sounding, it’s a bit classist and even imperialistic. (Wow, the word “classist” isn’t recognized by my spell check.)

(And personally, I’d much rather be in a madhouse that was like the Coney Island of yesteryear…)

“Perhaps the best we can hope for is that decades later, when the science of old zealots becomes offensive to scientists of a newer age who hold passionately to different beliefs, those scientists will be prompted to reanalyze old data and rethink old conclusions” (10). But will that really be any different? Wouldn’t it just produce the same thing, only the other way around? What I fondly refer to as liberal fundamentalism? How do we know that the “science of old zealots” didn’t come about in the same way–that the scientists before them held beliefs that they didn’t agree with? Scientists that have effectively been taken out of history altogether, as many truths are (i.e., the origin of the word “Indian”, Benedict Arnold’s true motivations)?

Response to:
Suniya S. Luthar: “The Culture Of Affluence: Psychological Costs Of Material Wealth”

With my own harried history with mental health, it’s a topic that’s of much interest to me. This was a great article because it taught me a lot about different causes of mental illness, in populations (i.e., the rich) which, yes, I often disregard, for the same reasons and in the same ways as many not-rich people do.

“We’re losing our kids to overscheduled hyperactivity…. These are supposed to be the years that kids wander around and pal around, without being faced with the pressures of the real world” (1583). Sounds like Annette Lareau’s “Social Class And The Daily Lives Of Children”. Only she didn’t touch upon that at all. In fact, her bias felt a lot like the other way around–that middle-class children are much more well adjusted *because* of all these silly extracurricular activities.

“Parents who have strong drives toward competitive success are also highly invested in the ‘star qualities’ of their offspring. The children therefore fail to develop secure attachments based on the knowledge that they are valued for the individuals they are and not just for the splendor of their accomplishments” (1584). Hey, what’s wrong with promoting capitalist behavior so early? After all, a person’s worth is based on their money and power and winning, is it not?

“Perhaps the most difficult challenge posed by our evolved psychological mechanisms is managing competition and hierarchy negotiation” (1587). It all goes back to the evils of capitalism. It is said that humankind is not ready for something like the ideal communist state, and yet many of us don’t seem to be handling this stage very well.

Note: The great public intellectual Chace Arnold wrote something on this topic, check it out if you’d like:


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