Mental illness is undeniably a serious social issue in Canada. Unfortunately, the equality of opportunity offered in our country does not assist or allow those suffering from issues such as depression, addiction, diagnosed “personality disorders,” etc. to compete with the rest of the “able-minded,” productive population. In fact, the vast inequalities that exist amongst the Canadian population can be said to be (or at least contribute to) the actual cause of many of the mental disabilities mentioned above. A social democracy would aim to change this problem.
A social democratic society would focus on reducing all inequalities in society and eliminating poverty would be a main focus. It is common knowledge that all too often poverty and mental illness go hand in hand. “Poverty prevents people from achieving the prerequisites for health, such as shelter, food, warmth and the ability to participate in society
(Dennis Raphael, 2001, p. 1703).” As well as experiencing “anxiety and stress associated with uncertainty,” people who live in poverty “lack control over life circumstances… and are distressed over their lack of material resources (Dennis Raphael, 2001, p. 1703).” While these circumstances can often be met with resilience, many people can deal with only so much physical and emotional stress before they begin to feel the effects on their psychological state of mind. In addition to this situation, many people who are impoverished and are experiencing a mental illness do not have access to the resources they need or the opportunities for self-care that the well-off population often has.
As well as focussing on material inequalities, a social democracy would seek to eliminate all forms of discrimination and social inequalities based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs etc. These forms of discrimination also affect the rates of mental illness in society. For example, “inner city children and families commonly experience chronic trauma and stress
(Welsh, 2003, p. 267),” and while poverty is one reason, the general oppression faced by these marginalized groups substantially adds to the stress that poverty creates. When people are constantly discriminated against, “rage can be internalized and manifested as depression or self-destructive drug or alcohol abuse (Welsh, 2003, p. 266).” Again, these minority populations will not have the same access to the helping resources that the rest of the society has.
While social welfare directed towards helping those with mental disabilities in a liberal society is a good thing, mental illness will be merely be treated but not prevented. This creates the constant need for professional and economic resources to be poured into this area. In reality, due to a lack of social funding and limited access many people will be left with no treatment options at all. Because many social problems arise out of the fact that the current system is neglecting human needs
(Mullaly, 2007), these psychological issues that people are struggling with will exist as long as the current system is in place.
There is a great amount of scholarly literature which stresses the fact that an increase in resource equality would lead to a decrease of many incidences of mental illness. Wilkinson and Pickett write that “…unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them- the well off as well as the poor
(Wilkinson, 2009, abstract)” and argue that “almost every modern social and environmental problem…. is more likely to occur in a less equal society (Wilkinson, 2009, abstract)”. If we are able to examine and alleviate social problems where they start, the entire society will benefit. When people’s needs for basic resources and safety and security are met, the fear, paranoia and desperation which are often equated with mental illness will decline. This will likely decrease poverty, crime and many medical and social welfare expenses, allowing the country as a whole to benefit from extra resources and increased safety.
Dennis Raphael, P. (2001, September). Increasing poverty threatens the health of all Canadians. Canadian Family Physician, 47, 1703-1706.
Mullaly, B. (2007). The New Structural Social Work (third ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Welsh, F. (2003). Normal Family Processes (3rd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.
Wilkinson, R. D. (2009). The spirit level: why more equal societies almost always do better. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.