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How ill is Capitalism really making us?

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How ill is Capitalism really making us?

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Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Health and also in Education, Environment

Well known psychologist Oliver James is to ask whether increasing materialism and inequality in society is threatening our mental health at a lecture at the University of Leicester.

His talk, Affluenza Revisited: The Impact of 34 Years of Selfish Capitalism on our Mental Health, will take place from 3.30—5.30pm on Wednesday 11 December 2013, in Bennett Lower Ground Floor Lecture Theatre 2, on the main campus.

The talk, hosted by the University’s School of Psychology, aims to answer a troubling question: is the ‘Selfish Capitalism’ of countries like ours making us more mentally ill?

Oliver James has pointed to greater materialism and inequality as key causes of higher mental illness in ‘Selfish Capitalist’ countries compared to others.

He sees ‘Affluenza’ as an epidemic in first-world countries—an illness characterised by a relentless pursuit of greater material wealth and goods. 

A study of 15 nations by WHO indicated that the prevalence of mental illness in ‘Selfish Capitalist’ Free Market Economies is high: the proportion was found to be as great as 26% in the USA, for example, and 23% in the UK and New Zealand.

By contrast, the prevalence of mental illness in countries with a relatively ‘Unselfish Capitalist’ model, such as in the six mainland Western Europe countries studied, was found to be 11.5%.

To make matters worse, the negative influences of ‘Selfish Capitalism’ may begin acting early on.

Recent evidence from the Human Genome Project strongly suggests psychological differences between individuals come not from genetics, or ‘nature’, but from early childhood experience, or ‘nurture’. 

The latter is influenced not just by parenting but by wider societal trends, such as political economics and cultural factors—and including such trends as ‘Affluenza’ and ‘Selfish Capitalism’.

The talk will follow up Oliver James’s bestselling books Affluenza and The Selfish Capitalist. For Affluenza, James travelled around the world to discover both the factors behind the psychological condition and ways to counter them.

For the latter book, meanwhile he looked even deeper into the origins of this “virus”, as well as the climate in which it has subsequently grown.

Dr Steve Melluish, Head of Clinical Practice at the University of Leicester said: “As a department of clinical psychology we are very pleased to have Oliver James come to talk. His work has really shaped the debate around the links between inequality and mental health and what has been termed the ‘happiness paradox’: that is, the more affluent we have become in the industrialised West, the unhappier we seem.”

Oliver James trained and practised as a clinical child psychologist and, since 1988, has worked as a writer, journalist, broadcaster and television documentary producer and presenter. He is also known for books such as The Selfish Capitalist and Britain on the Couch.

Aside from his bestselling books, he turned Britain on the Couch into a successful documentary series for Channel 4. He has published on the psychology of parenting and family, and writes an occasional family advice column in The Guardian.  He is a trustee of the Alzheimer's charity, SPECAL. 

The lecture will take place on Wednesday 11 December 2013 at 3.30-5.30pm in the Bennett Lower Ground Floor Lecture Theatre 2 at the University of Leicester.

The talk is free and open to all and will be followed by mulled wine and mince pies.

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