The Spirit Level: how inequality affects mental health
Producer/director Katharine Round blogs about her film The Spirit Level and how financial inequality can affect mental health and wellbeing
Most of us can see in our daily lives how our world is beset with social problems: we’re stressed, mistrustful, our communities have eroded, crime is a constant problem, and the lives of growing numbers are dominated by despair and depression. In the UK, a million children are estimated to be mentally ill and 23% of adults have a neurotic or psychotic disorder or are addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Depression, anxiety and mental health difficulties are frequently treated as individualised problems, compounding feelings of isolation and loneliness by those who suffer. But by focusing efforts towards addressing social problems such as mental health in their individual manifestations are we missing the bigger picture? The Spirit Level, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, presents 25 years of meticulous research to show, amongst other things, that there are more mental health problems within societies with higher levels of inequality.
To tackle the root causes of stress, depression and anxiety – as well as addiction, educational performance, violence and teenage pregnancy - we need to tackle the wider problem of inequality. At its simplest, bigger income differences reduce social cohesion and make all the problems of class and social hierarchy worse – not just for the poor, but for all of us.
The idea swept the globe in 2009, 2010 and 2011, gaining support from leaders of all political persuasions. Miliband talks about “Spirit Level Britain”, Obama claims inequality is the number one problem facing the US, and Cameron states that “deep poverty living side by side with great riches damages us all”. Even the world’s billionaires at the annual Davos Conference spoke of the problems of inequality – although perhaps this is more down to a fear of reprisals than a pre-occupation with fairness. After all, last year saw a wave of protests against the super-rich, from Occupy to UK Uncut.
Yet still the incomes of the top earners have risen faster than everyone else – especially in the UK and US. In the US the richest fifth of the population controls about 85% of the country’s wealth. In the UK the richest 1% have seen their share of income rocket from 7.1% in 1970 to 14.3% in 2005, whilst incomes of the poorest have stood still.
And in December 2011 the OECD reported the gap between rich and poor was at its highest level for 30 years. The ignorance about how unequal our societies have become – and the effects of this - is shocking. There is no better time than now to address it.
I’ve long been passionate about the role that film can play in creating social change, and this text immediately struck me as one of the most important social messages facing the developed world. I felt it was something that transcended political rhetoric, that everybody should be aware of this research into the woes of our modern developed societies.
We want to make a film that is talked and written about, that gets into cinemas and on our televisions, so millions can see it. And, most importantly, we want to achieve real, tangible change in policies and attitudes.
One week ago, we launched our campaign both to raise awareness and funds for the film. For five more weeks only people are able to visit our campaign page and support the film. In our first week, we have been overwhelmed by the support and messages we have received from a large global community, and we want this to continue.
We want as many people as possible to join. We want people to know we are making this film - to show just how much public support there is for the issue, to help us attract the money we need to make it, and to put pressure on politicians to move beyond lip-service to real policy change. Together we can do for the public understanding of the ways inequality damages all of us what An Inconvenient Truth did for the public understanding of climate change.
A better life, and better mental health, is possible for all of us.