May 20, 2024

A Scourge on the Youth in Capitalist Society

The system we live in is nourished by the exploitation of the people. Capitalism has, as its derivatives, war, poverty, insecurity, unemployment, alienation, and dead ends. The United States, the so-called pinnacle of “individualism,” is fertile ground for deteriorating mental health. In societies like ours, the individual is faced with the many-sided violence of a rotten system. It is a daily violence, which has countless invisible sides that wear out the mental health of people. Capital’s violence against wage labor is exercised through economic coercion, which condemns workers to live and work for the profits of the few. This is why numerous  studies demonstrate that negative mental effects have a clear class character. In other words, they primarily affect the working class and the popular strata. The alienation that characterizes capitalist society tends to take on extremely threatening dimensions. People are overwhelmed by a feeling of asphyxiation, which is combined with mental suffocation and fear, resulting from the forced lack of interpersonal relationships and the rupture of social bonds.

In 2022, suicides in the US hit an all time high, making it the eleventh leading cause of death. The “metropolis of capitalism,” plagued by the deterioration of mental health,  places obstacles in the way of people receiving mental health care through the commercialization of all health services. Many believe the country is facing a mental health crisis. Even more are not able to receive the care they need due to the cost of services. People are looking for help but cannot have it. Among those are high school students, for whom suicide is the third leading cause of death.

The widespread problems recorded and their disturbing expression within the youth of high school ages should sound an alarm. The latest data indicates that 42% of high school students “felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row that they stopped doing their usual activities [1].” Further, the growing problems experienced by high school students lead to an increasing percentage of students who have seriously considered attempting suicide, made a suicide plan, or attempted suicide. Obviously, the statistics on mental health, as concerning as they are, represent only a minimal and more visible part of a problem that affects an ever-increasing slice of the youth population.

Teachers are quitting en masse, public education is deteriorating from the rise of private and charter schools, the influence of smartphones, the negative role of social media and other distracting devices, and a rise in youth apathy due to declining future prospects, which in turn are the result of a crisis-riddled economy, looming war, environmental collapse, COVID-19, and mass shootings; all and sundry are the responsibilities of consecutive governments. Every last administration holds the blame with their increased cuts in education and public health. Both Republicans and Democrats have prioritized the greater involvement of  all kinds of private businesses, cooperatives, NGOs, “initiatives,” and other “philanthropists” in health and education.

This is the result of an exploitative system, with its characteristically inhuman elements. On the one hand, the mental health of the people is undermined and worsened, and on the other, its treatment is considered a “cost” for the bourgeois state, business groups, and bourgeois governments. The “world model of capitalism” has spent, in total, 76.8 billion dollars on the dirty imperialist war being waged in Ukraine, while thousands of children spend hours in schools starved of resources, tortured by their own thoughts.

Reflections of a High School Teacher

Mr. Hernandez is a public high school teacher in FL who has reached out to New Worker to discuss the issues faced by students today under capitalism.

New Worker: How would you say the widespread mental health issues affect your students?

Mr. Hernandez: The psychological discomfort that afflicts my students is an increasingly widespread issue, not only in my classroom, but among youth in general. From my experience, it is exacerbated by socio-economic status, employment, housing uncertainty, fear for future prospects, the consequences on social behaviors and mind-body well-being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, viscous family problems, unhealthy social media habits, and many other issues that all contribute to feelings of hopelessness. Some students are required to drive miles away in order to participate in athletic or academic programs which are not offered in their hometown high school. For this, families dish out lots of money. Many students are forced to work after school to help their families pay bills, only to come home and have to study for hours after a long shift. When they arrive to class in the morning, they are nearly lifeless, and have no interest in learning materials they feel have no value in the real world. I’d say a lot of us teachers sympathize because this issue of students working and studying is similar to the experience of teachers who teach and then go to work after the school day to afford rising rent or mortgages.

Image: Student note given to Mr. Hernandez during the first week of school.

New Worker: How has the severe lack of counselors and mental health professionals affected your school?

Mr. Hernandez: Across the US, public schools are underfunded, students have limited or no access to mental health professionals. In my school, we have one mental health counselor for a student body of nearly 1700. This is not sufficient to address the needs of students. Oftentimes, the counselor is faced with oversized caseloads in the face of rising needs. It is not possible for one counselor to meet the needs of all these students.

New Worker: What is a solution to the situation faced by the students?

Mr. Hernandez: Teachers, at the least, are able to consult with each other, in their union. Through the union, depending on the local, we are able to collectively fight for an issue that is widely felt. Students lack this sort of collective action, and many are afraid to even begin building an organization that fights for the needs of students. The atmosphere in the school is one of competition, where students find it difficult to confide in their peers. I believe students should have a union or organization which fights to build a school that they can look forward to coming to in the morning, where they have resources or professionals on staff to help them in their lives. I think they would be surprised to find the support of a lot of their teachers, since many of us are also fighting against the assault on public education.

The School of Bosses: An Element in the Degradation of Mental Health

Can children truly find comfort within an institution where they spend six hours or more per day, five days per week? It’s highly unlikely. The government wants a school that is cheap for the state, expensive for parents, and profitable for capital. State budgets allow little room for enhancing school infrastructure, funding after-school activities, or maintaining a dedicated staff of health professionals and counselors. Many families are compelled to dip into their pockets for tutoring or extracurricular activities to offer their children even a glimmer of future prospects.

The educational framework of the capitalist system degrades and sidelines individuals who don’t achieve peak results in the shortest time possible. This arises from the logic of competition, which is dictated by the “free market” and employers. Students who do meet these criteria often find themselves ineligible for scholarships, a predicament that disproportionately affects those from working-class backgrounds compared to those from wealthier economic situations.

Our contemporary society, marked by individualism and societal pressures, breeds a school system that peddles a grand falsehood to cement the dominance of the capitalist class. This fabrication is propped up by the notion of meritocracy, coercing students into believing that boundless avenues of self-realization await if they just put in enough effort. Yet the truth is that real living conditions frequently prevent such a realization.

In this environment, students ask: Why does school feel like such a “burden?” Why do I lack anticipation and enthusiasm for learning? Day by day, students continue to trudge to a school that leaves them disinterested,  that fills them with anxiety and insecurity, instead of joy and optimism. The ultimate aim of the school is to shape the workforce of tomorrow as mandated by the system’s requirements. This is the school of a class-divided society.

What School Do We Need Today?

Both Republicans and Democrats bear a shared history of grave injustices suffered by the youth in this country. By serving the profits of the business groups, our rights—to life, leisure, safety, quality education, the value of high school diplomas, and job prospects—are continually being sacrificed by alternating governments. It has become evident that relying on the next “savior” for solutions is insufficient; the solution lies in taking the situation into our own hands, not waiting on the governments to return to us what they have stolen.

We possess the ability to construct a movement which leads the call for substantial upgrades in our studies, for free student care, increased state funding, a staff of permanent health professionals in every school, an end to the financial suffocation of public schools, and studies that expand the possibilities of our lives.

The voice of the students exists, it is time for them to be heard.

The school that’s worth fighting for is the school of the future. This school lays the foundations for the formation of people with comprehensive and high-level education, with a multifaceted and creative personality, who will be practically educated in the values ​​of collectivity, solidarity, and cooperation. It prepares students to contribute through work and participation in the exercise of power, so that society can move forward and people’s needs can be met. This school educates them free of charge and without discrimination, gives them the necessary background to be able to approach the wealth of knowledge that humanity has amassed. It helps them shape their personality by developing their particular inclinations and interests.

Without hesitation, we must enter the fight, together, making the streets our stage of struggle, to demand the school and life we deserve!

Footnotes

  1. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011–2021. MENTAL HEALTH AND SUICIDALITY. pgs. 57-70. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/YRBS_Data-Summary-Trends_Report2023_508.pdf