Blue Britain

The state of the nation’s depression.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

Crying in agony

Britons are not a bunch of happy bunnies, if fresh reports are to be believed. A recent survey of 250 GPs by Norwich Union Healthcare has found that more than six million of us are on anti-depressants, and that one in three visits to the doctor are from people complaining about depression.

Elsewhere, a nationwide inquiry has been launched by the Mental Health Foundation and the Camelot Foundation to investigate the growing number of young people in the UK harming themselves. They say that in the whole of Europe, Britain has the highest rates of people who cut themselves. Meanwhile, in the pages of the Guardian, we have had Nick Johnstone’s new column that chronicles his own battle with acute depression, and in the same paper, the emergence of Ann Widdecombe’s agony aunt slot.

It’s all very depressing, though not surprising. As Oliver James diagnosed it in Britain on the Couch (1998), despite being richer and healthier than ever, we are actually unhappier than ever. Ours is a self-hating miserablist society – on a micro and macro level. It is also one characterized by philosophical materialism and genetic determinism. Depression is comprehended by much of the populace in purely chemical terms: ‘I am sad because I’ve got a genetic, chemical imbalance in my head; an external input of chemicals is thus the cure.’

This ignores the reality that you don’t just need a pill to change the chemical composition of your brain. Anyone who has ever seen their team win the league, passed a crucial exam or fallen in love will have experienced mind-altering heightened adrenaline and serotonin levels. Granted, the chemical imbalance of the clinically depressed can only be redressed through drug treatment, but far too many people who are merely unhappy also seek a ‘solution’ in the form of a tablet.

What is interesting is the timing of the launch of Ann Widdecombe’s column. Granted, it’s a tongue-in-cheek affair, with the Tory MP saying all those judgmental things agony aunts are never meant to do – Pull your socks up! Stop wallowing in your own problems! Take responsibility for yourself! Nevertheless, the agony aunt column is a cultural signifier, and the fact that we have more and more reveals how unhappy we are.

A society that feels it has no intimate friends or family with whom to confide in, and needs to write to the likes of Claire Rayner or the Sun’s ‘Dear Deirdre’, is truly one that has become disjointed and atomised. The addition of another agony aunt to a crowded market is enough to make me want to cry. Can any spiked readers help?

Not all the same

The gradual decrease in voter turnout in Britain is a great source of concern to our government. To remedy this trend, it has mooted variously the idea of reducing the age of suffrage to 16, the introduction of postal voting, compulsory voting, and giving the franchise to prisoners. Not so long ago the New Labourish think-tank Demos even suggested, in all seriousness, giving the vote to babies.

The government will no doubt be delighted at the latest development. This week, judges at the European Court of Human Rights ruled that prisoners in the UK should have the vote. Jailbirds are currently denied it in the UK, a situation the judges deemed a breach of their human rights.

Personally, I’m against this. Those who break the law break the social contract and should thus be deprived of certain privileges. And voting is a privilege. Progressives and liberals fought for centuries to secure universal suffrage, and it should be treated with due reverence. If we cherished how fortunate we are to have the vote, perhaps we would take it more seriously.

Many people complain that there’s no point in voting because there is ‘no choice’, and that ‘they’re all the same anyway’. Last time I went to the ballot box, I was given the option of voting for: the British National Party, United Kingdom Independence Party, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Liberal, Labour, Green, Socialist Alliance and the Communist Party. Though not perfect, that’s a pretty impressive ‘choice’ of parties that are not remotely ‘all the same’ (I would ideally prefer a consistently libertarian party, but, hey, you can’t have everything).

The regular complaint if you are a Liberal Democrat or a Green or a Communist is that there is not a hope of your party forming a government. Well, that’s democracy for you. Just because you yourself voted for one party, it doesn’t mean it will necessarily get into power. It’s called the will of the majority, and there’s no point getting into a strop about it. Had its sympathisers had the same apathetic philosophy in the early 1900s, the Labour Party would have never supplanted the Liberals as a force in British politics in the 1920s.

Giving the franchise to prisoners, babies, the insane, bats, goats, Hindu deities or whatever ignores a principal reason for voter apathy: that an increasingly cretinous and lazy populace would rather watch television or go shopping instead.

The Divided Self

In the wake of the decision by a group of African-Americans descended from slaves to sue Lloyd’s of London, who insured slave ships, I have taken a radical departure. Since my mother is Irish and my father English, I have decided to sue myself for the Potato Famine of the 1840s.

I have not been able to live with the anguish of being a sixth-generation survivor, while the guilt of being the descendant of a perpetrator has also been unbearable. It’s time I was awarded/gave out compensation. I have suffered/inflicted enough. Can anyone out there feel my pain/forgive me?

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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Topics Politics


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