Depression Is The Great Curse Of Western Capitalism

By Dr. Sawraj Singh

Out of all of the damage done by western capitalism to mankind and the world, the worst is depression. This can be called the ultimate damage of western capitalism. Never in the history of mankind have so many people suffered from this ailment; although, even in ancient societies like Greece, this condition existed. The word melancholy can be compared to depression, yet in the modern capitalist society, the number of people suffering from depression has skyrocketed. It may not be an exaggeration that it is very rare in modern capitalist society to find someone who has not experienced some symptoms of depression. We only come to know about the severe cases of clinical depression. However, there are many, many more cases which no one finds out about.

If we include all kinds of depression, then it may not be an exaggeration to say that in the modern capitalist society, depression is the rule rather than exception. Fifty percent or more of marriages in some societies are doomed to failure; people who get a divorce experience some degree of depression. Many women experience some depression after childbirth (Post-partum depression); job loss, retirement, or financial stress may trigger depression. Children leaving home after becoming young adults can also trigger depression (Empty Nest syndrome). Depression is not uncommon in the extremes of age: childhood and old age. If a spouse dies, the surviving spouse may become depressed. Cold and grey winter days may cause depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Even supposedly good news may precipitate the manic component of bipolar disorder. Some commonly occurring diseases such as high blood pressure (hypertension) or diabetes can cause depression. Depression can be associated with any chronic illness. Anxiety, fear, and insecurity, the hallmarks of western capitalism, are by far the main causes of depression.

The dazzling lights, the constant hustle and bustle, and the deafening noises of capitalism have led to darkness of the mind and extreme loneliness inside. That is the bipolarity, or contradiction, of capitalism: on one hand, it promotes the concept of living it up; and on the other hand, it constantly injects fear for survival in people. People want to enjoy all of the comforts and conveniences that capitalism provides. However, they constantly fear that the man-eating capitalist giant is going to devour them. In the ancient Greek epic of Odysseus, on one island, people are living under the constant fear of who will be next to be picked up by a group of man-eating Cyclopes (giants with one large eye in the center of the forehead). Sometimes, people feel like victims of a giant (capitalism) who applies some ointment on their stomachs so that they overeat and fatten up to be eaten by him, as in a tale of the Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor. People eat, drink, and try to be merry, yet they cannot get over the fear that they can be swallowed by the capitalist giant anytime it decides to pick on them.

In many quizzes and exams, you have to find matching words to form a logical pair; likewise, capitalism matches with stress. Capitalism and relaxation can never go together. Relaxation under capitalism is superficial, fake and deceptive. Capitalism is based upon the primitive law of the jungle where a deadly attack can be waiting behind any bush. Capitalism has the mistaken belief that if people really relax, then they will become complacent and less productive. Therefore, to maintain their maximum productivity, people have to be kept on the edge. People should be made to feel insecure to constantly worry for their survival. It is a do-or-die situation all of the time. Sooner or later, a person is bound to break down. This is exactly what we term depression. Depression is an inherent and integral part of capitalism. Life is a rat race: you have to keep running until you are exhausted and cannot run any longer. When you give up or collapse, then you become depressed. Capitalism wants you to keep running in its             rat race without thinking and asking the question, “what am I running for?”

Capitalism has all of the elements for generating stress. However, it takes away all of the defense mechanisms to fight stress. It alienates you from nature, society, family and self. Moreover, in the rat race, you have no time to realize your spiritual dimension. You are reduced to just two dimensions, body and mind. The spirit, which is essential for fighting stress, is missing. Without the spirit, man feels incomplete. This feeling of being incomplete and missing something makes you vulnerable to stress. The prolonged stress, sooner or later, will push you into depression. This is like the traditional Greek tragedy where you (like the protagonist) are doomed to a sad end. There is no concept of a happy ending in capitalism. The rat race of capitalism has only entry points and there is no graceful exit. You have to collapse or fall to get out of the race. You cannot voluntarily or gracefully leave the race. When you ask the question, “What am I running for?” you have already broken the golden rule of capitalism.

Two things which work against depression have both been taken away from people: Spirituality and exercise. One can easily understand why capitalism has taken away spirituality. However, it is difficult to understand how capitalism can take away exercise when people are running in a never-ending rat race. Spirituality gives us values of contentment, moderation, forgiveness, compassion and sharing. All of these are considered to be big obstacles by capitalism in its goal to convert people to its religion of consumerism. The rat race of capitalism is only a mental race without any physical element. Actually, because of being runners in the rat race, people do not have any time left to take any physical exercise. There are many studies which demonstrate that people who are spiritual are less likely to be depressed, and if they become depressed, then they are more likely to recover. Similarly, exercise helps by                                                                                                       releasing endorphins, which have a calming as well as mood-elevating effect. People who regularly exercise can also prevent many diseases which can lead to depression.

Capitalism has commercialized exercise. It has promoted the misconception that exercise can only be done in a gym or with sophisticated equipment, nutrition, and health-monitoring devices which the majority of people cannot afford. The comforts and conveniences of capitalism have also made life more sedentary. The net effect of all of these is that people get less natural exercise than they used to. Similarly, spirituality has been commercialized while the essence of spirituality has been destroyed. The capitalist corruption of Yoga is a case-in-point: from a path towards spiritual enlightenment, Yoga has been turned into a more than $27 billion commercial industry.

India is paying a very heavy price for adopting the western capitalist model of development. The second-rated, inefficient and chaotic Indian capitalism has taken a very heavy toll on people’s physical and mental health. India can now boast of having the largest percentage and number of patients suffering from depression. A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that India is the country with the largest number of people who have suffered a major depressive episode, 36% of India’s population. This is the price a society pays when it loses its traditional spirituality to a decadent system. We not only hear about suicides in poor farmers overburdened by their debts, but also in IAS and IPS officers, doctors, business tycoons, models, and film actors. Only recently, Deepika Padukone, who is among the highest placed Indian actresses, came out publicly that she is suffering from depression. It seems ironical that this happened at a time when she is scaling the heights of success in her career. People seem to be living on the edge; any little push throws them into a pit from which they cannot come out. Failure in a test, getting lesser marks than expected, frustration in love affairs or marriage, loss in business, or social humiliation, all of these situations can push people into depression.

The overseas Indians cannot escape from depression either. For example, in the Vancouver B.C. area, talking to psychiatrists who practice here will make you aware that depression is extremely common in the Punjabi community. To make matters worse, many Punjabis try to treat their depression by consuming more alcohol. Alcohol is a universal central nervous system depressant and it therefore worsens depression. Many young people start taking drugs. This is one of the factors for making illicit recreational drug use and drug-dealing very attractive to Punjabi youth. One Gurudwara Sahib in Surrey, BC, requested the BC government to begin a depression awareness program there because of a very high incidence of depression among the people who come to the Gurudwara Sahib.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib promotes a lifestyle which can not only help to prevent depression, but also help people to come out of it. Guru Granth Sahib preaches contentment, moderation, sharing, forgiveness, compassion, and honest and productive work (Kirat).

Dr. Sawraj Singh, MD F.I.C.S. is the Chairman of the Washington State Network for Human Rights and Chairman of the Central Washington Coalition for Social Justice. He can be reached at sawrajsingh@hotmail.com.

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