The rate of mental illness in the United States has risen sharply in the last few decades. The same is true for the United Kingdom. The rate of income inequality has also risen sharply. Are these phenomena connected? A recent episode of Science Weekly suggests that they are. Several indicators of mental health in societies suggest a correlation between mental illness and income disparities. It would be naive, though, to assume that it is only the disadvantaged that are affected. Studies indicate that mental health is impacted at all levels of societies that include unhealthy levels of inequality.
Perhaps surprisingly, the rate of suicide bears an inverse relationship to the rate of income inequality. The more income inequality, the lower the rate of suicide, but the higher the rate of violence toward others. The more economically equal a society becomes, the lower its levels of overall violence becomes, but its rate of suicide escalates. Social scientists postulate that this mismatch may be explained by violence turning inward. The more equal economic opportunity becomes, the harder it becomes to blame others for one’s difficulties, and anger turns inward.
Listen to this episode and consider what the complex relationships between income inequality, violence, and mental illness may mean for our future.