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Depression Linked to Living

Psychoanalyst and Professor at the University of São Paulo, Christian Dunker, believes that there is now an industrialisation of depression that disconnects it from the way people live, focused on results as if they were a company.

In a conversation with media outlet Lusa, he considers that the current socio-economic system, which he calls neoliberal, makes the individual himself see himself as a company – to understand as natural concepts such as productivity, competition, profitability, and metrics, in which everything is subject to the “mercantile logic,” to the “cost-benefit,” the worker is “human capital” and the children an “investment in the future” – and to suffer for not being able to fulfill everything that is required of him and for feeling that the “Your dreams are not adequate.”

“The depressed patient looks at himself and judges that he is insufficient, that he is not up to the task,” says the Brazilian psychoanalyst.

“If we want to improve something in mental health rates, what are the procedures? Zero racism, zero bullying, zero sexual and moral harassment, care about unemployment, domestic violence. This obvious, evident connection has been broken,” says Christian Dunker at the launch of his book “Neoliberalism as Management of Psychic Suffering,” which took place at the Aljube Museum in Lisbon.

For the book’s organizers, Christian Dunker, Vladimir Safatle & Nelson da Silva Júnior, researchers at the Research Laboratory in Social Theory, Philosophy and Psychoanalysis at the University of São Paulo, depression (a term used to describe the financial crisis of 1929, the Great Depression) gradually became “the central clinical category” of psychic suffering, individualising suffering.

“Suffering has become, to some extent, being on the spectrum from depression to anxiety and from anxiety to depression,” Dunker stated while introducing his book.

In the conversation with Lusa, Christian Dunker says that “it is not that depression does not exist, but there is an industrialisation of depressive suffering, hyper-diagnosis, over-medication,” in which depression is thought of as a deficit of neurotransmitters (lack of serotonin or dopamine, as “if it were mental diabetes” in which insulin is replenished) and “not as a result of the way you work, speak and love.”

For Dunker, this is evident in the world of work, such as when it comes to wage increases and companies respond with productivity.

“This discussion epitomizes the morality that defines neoliberalism, we’re going to have to put more pressure on you, make you more afraid, more food insecure, more job insecure so that you produce more,” he says.

Dunker even considers that we have gone from a time when there was the idea that workers should be protected (with vacations, rest, ergonomics), because this way they produced more, to a time when “this is dispensed with, neoliberalism presupposes that having a supply of work is already a benefit” and fear is used as a strategy, understanding that “people who are afraid work harder.” For the researcher, evaluation systems in companies, schools, and hospitals are paradigmatic.

“There’s a culture where people need to know about the added value they’re producing or they fall into the spectrum of unemployment. What is evaluation culture? It is culture that incites individual suffering. If you’ve lost your job, it’s because you’ve done something wrong, it’s managing guilt and individualising guilt,” he says.

For Dunker, all this “modifies our relationship with ourselves, with others and implodes any relationship of solidarity,” because “the other is a competitor, who can produce more value.”

Christian Dunker also considers that in this culture the use of the concept of austerity has been instrumental, a moral concept that has become economic and in which anyone who does not agree with it is not a morally correct person.

“You can’t spend too much, you can’t dream too much, if you settle for being small, you become austere. The depressive person has the feeling of being less than he would like, his desire is something secondary. It affects the subject’s ability to engage with their desires and creates dream/hope atrophy.”

Samantha Gannon

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