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Published on January 16th, 2013

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Tale of Despereaux: Mental Health and the Economy

There are those hearts that never mend again once they are broken. Or if they do mend, they heal themselves in a crooked and lopsided way, as if sown together by a careless craftsman. Such was the fate of Chiaroscuro. His heart was broken. Picking up the spoon and placing it on his head, speaking of revenge, these things helped him to put his heart together again. But it was, alas, put together wrong.

There is a lot to be learned from children’s books. We learn about the virtues of bravery, chivalry, honesty and honest effort, while learning to shun the flaws inherent in the dark side of man. In the The Tale of Despereaux, Chiaroscuro reminds us of the fragility of the human condition. It is a fragility that is often disregarded; however one that has a way of having lasting and wide reaching ramifications.

We can learn a lot from Chiaroscuro. Although a rat, he is a product of the dark surroundings that have engulfed him and taken his will to be noble. This is indicative of the epidemic that has engulfed many elements of our society during this prolonged period of economic hardship. However there is a way to improve the nation’s maligned and disgruntled attitude, improve the economy.

Ever since the tragedy in Sandy Hook Elementary, the nation has spoken about “mental health” as if it applies solely to those suffering from schizophrenia, Asperger’s, or chronic depression. Although these ailments plague the most obvious cases of note, they do not address the root cause of the widespread anxiety, depression, and in some cases, hate. Beyond catalogues of fables and historical accounts that recount the plight of man, recent research has shown a disintegration of mental well-being.

Economic improvements alone will not solve all mental health deficiencies that currently dog the West, this much is obvious. Yet consistent research has shown that economic downturns pose threats to mental health and well-being (Stuckler, 2011).

To make this concept real, think of a time when the family budget was tight, you lost a job, or someone close was suffering. Now try to remember the psychological and emotional impact that had on you. Finally, imagine dealing with a personal matter (i.e. discontent spouse, annoying co-worker, increased pressure from boss or spouse, etc.) while influenced by the apprehensive feelings. The result probably was not very pleasant.

Yet in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, the World has been inflicted with prolonged political and economic instability. For many, this has been unpleasant to experience, yet manageable. However for some, the four years of high unemployment and deflated morale have exposed a deeper issue than anything economic. This has become evident in the increased cases of anxiety, depression, abuses, and other forms of antisocial behavior. This includes inflicting harm to self or others.

Europe has served as a modern case study for economists and psychologists alike. Strikes, violent protests and increased crime in certain areas grab the headlines. However within European social fabric, there is a certain built in safety-net through their healthcare and labor systems, although there is a shortage of psychologists and jobs to deal with the issue. Luckily, close bonds within the families serves as a more organic coping mechanism. Yet at this point, even those support systems are being taxed.

In the U.S., the issues that weigh most on society are under/unemployment and a drop in take-home pay. Although the economy is moderately positive and the reported unemployment rate has fallen as of late, it does not report the whole story. America has been the victim of a shrinking workforce ever since the origins of the financial crisis. Structural unemployment woes continue to be the issue that is widely being neglected, as many of the unemployed have been jobless for too long to be gainfully employment at a level they consider adequate. This is primarily due to the fact that the skills they once possessed have either been deemed dated or the jobs that required them are now obsolete. This reality breeds an overall sense of failure and in some cases desperation.

Besides the obvious economic impact of unemployment and decreased pay, the emotional impact can be devastating. Whereas some have remained resilient and have taken a job(s) below what they perceive to be their worth, a certain percentage have remained reliant on the system or have left the workforce altogether. Either way, prolonged unemployment and unproductiveness leads to a decrease in self-worth and in turn, may lead to many of the aforementioned maladies.

It is evident that the prolonged exposure to combative politics and prolonged economic stagnation has taken its toll on America. We have seen some improvements on perception that are promising. With consumer sentiment picking up, as well as productivity, we can anticipate a lessening of the forces that have bogged down a fragile American psyche. However this can quickly revert if lawmakers both domestically and overseas are not careful.

As Chiaroscuro teaches us, radical behavior is born from periods of volatility, discontent and despair. However when re-exposed to light and hope, one can change for the better.  Thus, considering the economic woes, it would be wise for politician to have laser focus on improving the economy, allowing for some of the issues that are boiling over to be alleviated. The longer the politics and brinksmanship continue, the longer many will be condemned to the dungeon of despair.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Erol Senel has been plying his trade in the world of finance and personal investing. Through this real world experience, he has found his true professional passion in economics and financial history.

Contact: erol.senelATgmail.com

Twitter: @senelslant

References

Reference

DiCamillo, K. (2003). The Tale of Despereaux. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.

Stuckler, D., Basu, S., & McDaid, D. (2011). Depression amidst depression: Mental health effects of the ongoing recession. World Health Organization.

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