01. Introduction: Class Struggle and Mental Health: Live to Fight Another Day

Front cover - Baggelboy
Submitted by armillaria on November 1, 2014

This piece of writing comes out of a series of discussions which occurred on the forums of libcom.org. It was repeatedly raised that depression, mental illness, and emotional stress are very common amongst libertarian political activists. Furthermore, suffering from mental illness as someone who is politically active often comes with its own set of complications. Sometimes the wider anarchist/ activist community is supportive and helpful. Other times, we can feel just as alienated amongst fellow anarchists as we do from the rest of capitalist society. With that in mind, the goal of this pamphlet is to offer some advice on what’s generally helpful in maintaining overall mental health. We have various sections that look at these issues from different angles, roughly as follows:

1) General advice
2) Management strategies
3) Personal accounts
4) Links
5) Advice from anarchist/radical mental health workers
6) Essays on organisational culture and mental health
7) Tips and discussion topics for groups and organisations

We don’t, however, want to pretend for a second that this pamphlet is a substitute for professional medical advice. While we’re critical of certain aspects of mental health treatment, if you’re suffering from severe depression or considering hurting yourself, please speak to someone immediately.

Living with depression isn’t easy. Far too often, on a societal as well as interpersonal level, mental health issues are ignored—or worse, written off with sufferers being blamed as weak or just overreacting. Aside from the personal sense of alienation that often accompanies mental illness, the institutions of capitalist society offer sufferers very little control over their treatment. Mental illness treatment is atomised and commodified, complete with hierarchy, coercion and the pressures of budgets, profit, and, bureaucracy. Mental health facilities in schools are woefully lacking and while
there’s no problem calling off work because you’re physically ill, very few employers have provisions for short or long-term mental health leave. Hospitals and mental health institutions often embody the very worst of institutional power.*

It’s imperative, then, that the class struggle community take issues of mental health seriously. Mental health should be discussed and there ought to be networks where sufferers can turn when they need support. We hope that this pamphlet can provide a start to that sort of thing taking shape. We do wish to
stress again, however, that this is not a substitute for the support and advice of trained medical professionals.

This is not, we should add, an attack on workers in the medical industry. Many of them are extremely dedicated to the socially useful elements of the job— indeed, this is often what attracted them to the field in the first place. However, this still doesn’t overcome the structural constraints of the industry or the fact that, as workers, they still operate within the framework of capitalist social relations.