Depression and anxiety; The new racism

It’s been a hell of a few weeks. Clearly I am suffering from stress. It could lead to depression, or perhaps anxiety.

Or perhaps I’m just busy and under pressure. Perhaps I’ll just harden the fuck up for a bit and see if that helps.

First; a warning. This is just some out-loud thinking. Sorry if it doesn’t make any sense. I’m stressed etc.,.

Yesterday I heard Frank Furedi speaking about freedom of speech on Radio National. I’ve not heard of Furedi since I was an undergrad student, about 20 years ago. I liked his work then, but have shifted in other directions since.

Yesterday, I listened to him argue that Western universities are increasingly self-censorious. This is because, under a neo-liberal consumerist model, they’re competing for students. There are prizes for the least confronting course content.

Education has become commodified, of course, but it’s happened in weird ways. University is no longer an adult stage, it is a continuation of a cosseted larval form, where endlessly fretting parents shuffle continuously build a fuzzy little ‘happy bubble’ around their children.

Every year the numbers of university students applying for special consideration on the basis of ‘stress’ or ‘depression and anxiety’ increases, as students pathologise the normal pressures of life in the adult world into an ever-expanding rubric of ‘wellness’.

Furedi often writes about this cultural turn but for me it was refreshing to hear someone validate what I myself have said so many times. In fact, I usually go one step further. I think we are encouraged to focus our attention on ourselves so as to avoid looking at the structural inequities and problems that may affect our ‘wellbeing’. This is one of the key ways that neo-liberalism works – it is the cult of the individual; If you can’t make life work, it’s because you’ve got something wrong with you. You have an illness. I’ve moaned about how this insidious cult of wellness operates before.

Here’s the thing; All capitalist systems require a certain degree of labour market elasticity. This is what the NAIRU (Non Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment) refers to. It is simply the rate of unemployment that can be sustained before inflation rises.

In the old days, the easiest way to secure churn at the bottom of the labour market was simply racism – you brought people in to your country and then stigmatised them so they would remain at the bottom. The decline in Empires (something that really only happened with the recession in the second half of the 1970s) has made flat-out racism more unpalatable and immigration much harder to manage. But the market still needs a bunch of people who will buy things but can’t work all the time.

Depression and anxiety is the new racism.

There’s another dimension to Furedi’s comments about education and feeble-mindedness, however. The commodification of a university education under a neo-liberal model has seen a dramatic increase in university enrolments. I’ve written about this in the Australian context before. My point is, universities are now accepting students who are completely unprepared for a university education.

One of the one hand, it’s predatory lending – inviting students to buy a mediocre education where they barely scrape through a general degree, with the help of multiple concessions to ‘stress’ or ‘depression’, is a bad thing.

But I’ve got mixed feelings about this. I myself left school before School C(ertificate*), and hit university in my early 20s. I was hopelessly outgunned. But, after a year I worked it out and did rather well thankyouverymuch.

So I’m cautious about suggesting that university entry requirements should be tightened as it may exclude those who might genuinely benefit.

I’ll leave that there. Apologies for lack of coherent thought.

 

 

*School Certificate and Bursary were the two main qualifications one could earn at school. Bursary (silly name, as it didn’t come with money) was roughly the same as HSC, undertaken at the end of Year 12. Only those planning to go to uni sat Bursary.

School C was the main qualification and you sat it at the end of Year 10. Can you imagine today’s year 10s sitting a series of exams at the end of the year? The stress! You’d be weeping into your chai latte.

 

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500 words; Risk, autism and wooly thinking

None of this makes much sense, it’s really just me mapping out questions rather than answers.

Recently a friend claimed that everyone at MIT (where she studied) was on the spectrum. The assumption that intelligence corresponds with autism is well known – here’s a primer on the idea that certain alleles crossover for both.

Basically, the argument runs that autism is like a concentrator – some bits of the brain get gooderer, while others get badderer. The article I’ve cited talks about this from an evolutionary perspective, including ‘assortative mating’ – like mates like.

Here’s my question – everything I’ve read about the ‘stratospheric rise’ in autism suggests that it has something to do with rapid changes in the environment (in an evolutionary sense), especially pre and immediately post-natally. In other words, the food we eat and behaviours we engage in, especially stressful ones, positively correlate with a diagnosis of autism.

I don’t know if I believe in a ‘rise’ in autism – seems like the diagnostic criteria is tremendously malleable, you can see this in the discrepancies across social categories too.

I guess I’m musing on an apparent paradox;

The rise in autism is supposedly caused by poor environment – high maternal sugar intake, high post natal stress/cortisol etc.,. and yet autism would seem to correspond with high ‘innate’ IQ – that is, ability to think about difficult topics logically (expressing this is a different story).

Does this lead to the conclusion that the rise in Lifestyles of the Poor and Ignominious have resulted in higher levels of IQ – albeit alongside autism?

Doesn’t stack up for me.

I’m wary of labelling everyone smart with being ‘on the spectrum’. As a child I was diagnosed as 100% NutBar – with many troubling behavioural and learning issues (I’m NOT labelling being on the spectrum with being a nutbar – I am claiming my own experience not speaking for anyone else’s here).

My life was very stressful but we lived in an affluent area where social problems are far more likely to be pathologised as medical ones. ┬áThen at 13 I moved schools and started living in a hostel. Suddenly (almost) every problem I’d ever had with learning and behaviour magically evaporated. I’m not suggesting that I am completely ‘not nutbar’ – I am a bit odd, and that’s good. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with being on the spectrum – as long as the consequences are good rather than negative (stigma etc.,.) but that’s another set of issues. But, I am suggesting we should be realistic about the range of human variability, and realistic about what that means. Diagnosing epidemics of this and that makes me uncomfortable.

I’m not suggesting autism doesn’t exist, or making claims about causality or anything else, I’m just very interested in what appears to be a paradox described above.

I guess another way of saying this would be – if we define IQ as the type of stuff people with autism are good at (the type of thinking defined in the article I cited above) then is there now more of it? And is this due to shitty western lifestyles?

 

 

Pepi pods

New Zealand is currently going through a pepi-pod phase, encouraging new parents to place their baby in a small sleeping pod to prevent cot death. The pepi-pod enables the baby to sleep in the bed next to its parents without fear of being squashed, suffocated, or otherwise lost amongst the Minties in the glovebox.

Yep, turns out that most cot deaths aren’t caused by some mysterious set of factors, they’re just caused by unfashionable ones – poverty, homelessness, substance abuse and formula feeding.

To engage in a little social history…when I was a fresh new Mum my own mother offered to whip me up a ‘banana box’ bassinet. These were common in the 1970s – a long skinny banana box covered in cotton fabric and a little wadding. Babies were separate but accessible – my earliest memories were of a gentle hand reaching down to me through a miasma of cigarette smoke so as I might receive another bellyful of thick, yellowy formula (I should note my Mum didn’t smoke, Dad did. But then so did everyone else. It was the 70s after all).

On another note, I asked Mum the other day what women did before formula. Mum grew up on a remote sheep farm – in those days new Mums did not scrum it out with sinewy Chinese girls for another tin of Karicare, yet breastfeeding wasn’t universal. Cow’s milk was the answer there – fresh, unpasteurised cow’s milk. I’d be fascinated to know how many babies received cow’s milk as their first food.