On 11th December 2013, Oliver James gave the inaugural lecture in our Psychology Cultures Seminar series. The author of The Selfish Capitalist, amongst other books, Oliver spoke on the subject of inequality and mental health, and provided this abstract to his talk:
“Recent evidence from the Human Genome Project strongly suggests that individual difference may be much less influenced by genetic factors than was suggested by the findings of Twin Studies and their adherents – whether it be Tim Spector or Robert Plomin, there is a gradual putting up of the White Flag on the part of naturists in the nature-nurture debate, albeit frequently concealed with talk of secondary issues, like epigenetics. This opens up a greater role for psychosocial factors than might have been imagined 20 years ago. In the first instance, that would suggest prenatal factors, both biological and psychosocial but subsequently, an increasingly sound and varied range of studies in developmental psychopathology implicate childhood experience as highly significant, the earlier the experience, the greater its impact. However, early nurture does not occur in a vacuum, parenting practices and cultures are profoundly affected by political economics. What is more, cultural factors like individualism and collectivism also have powerful roles. The WHO World Mental Health study has suggested substantial variation in prevalence of mental illness in 15 nations. Of particular interest is that, summed together, the six mainland Western European nations have half the prevalence (11.5%) of that found in the Anglo-Saxon nations, the USA (26%) and New Zealand (23%). The UK prevalence of 23% (as measured in 1999 and 2007) is remarkably similar. Although It used different methods, the samples were large and nationally representative. Taken together with evidence from Canada and Australia, a case can be made that the Free Market Economic (’Selfish Capitalist’) model correlates with double the amount of mental illness of the social democratic, relatively Unselfish Capitalist, mainland Western European model. Greater materialism may be one part of the explanation, greater inequality is another. On top of that, different amounts and balances between individualism and collectivism would also seem to be implicated. Whatever the precise explanation, as clinicians, it behoves us to factor in wider political economics when listening to our clients describing their problems. As the Frankfurt School psychologist Erich Fromm put it back in the 1950s, we have become Marketing Characters in a Marketing Society. There are considerable implications for what clinical methods we employ.”
Oliver James is a Chartered Clinical and Occupational Psychologist, registered with the British Psychological Society. He is registered as a Psychotherapist with the John Bowlby Centre.
Since 1988, has worked as a writer, journalist, broadcaster and television documentary producer and presenter. His books include the best-selling Affluenza, How Not to F*** Them Up and Britain on the Couch, which was also a successful documentary series for Channel 4.