The Politics of Distress: Why Mental Health Outcomes Failing – James Davies

How our mental health system has colluded with the interests of late capitalism: a call...

Last updated 18 July 2024

How our mental health system has colluded with the interests of late capitalism: a call for mental health reform.

In Britain alone, approaching 25% of the adult population is prescribed a psychiatric drug in any given year. This is an increase of over 500% since 1980, and the numbers continue to grow. Yet, since the 1980s, mental health outcomes have not improved, and according to some measures they have worsened. Using a wealth of studies, interviews with experts, and detailed analysis, Dr James Davies argues that this is because we have fundamentally mischaracterised the problem. Rather than viewing most mental distress as a reaction to wider societal problems, we have embraced a medical model which situates the problem solely within the sufferer. While this approach has advantaged late capitalism, it has systematically misunderstood and mistreated mental health problems in the neoliberal era, leading to the widespread pathologisation, commodification, depoliticisation and privatisation of distress at the expense of generating good clinical outcomes. This presentation is based upon his recent book: Sedated: how modern capitalism created our mental health crisis (Atlantic Books 2022).

Endorsements of the book upon which the presentation is based.

‘A wonderful, moving and truly life-changing book. Sedated is an urgent intervention for post-pandemic society, written with expertise and clarity. Warning: it will cause irritation to powerful interests who fear us all becoming better informed about the root causes of so much human suffering. ― Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, former Director of Liberty’

‘James Davies is one of the most important voices on mental health in the world. This is a beautiful and deeply sane book. Everyone who’s suffering – and wants to know how to make it stop – should read it right away. ― Johann Hari, author of Lost Connections’

‘In this game-changing polemic, James Davies leaves us in no doubt: to tackle the mental health crisis we need major social and economic reform. ― Nathan Filer, author of This Book will Change Your Mind about Mental Health’

James’s talk is titled …. The New “Opium of the People” – why our mental health sector has failed.

This event is included in a series of seminars organised in collaboration with the Therapy and Social Change Network.


James Davies

James Davies is Associate Professor of medical anthropology and psychology at the University of Roehampton. He is a practicing psychotherapist (UKCP Reg) and is a co-founder of the Beyond Pills All Party Parliamentary Group. He has been an expert drug advisor for Public Health England, and is the bestselling author of books such as: Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm than Good (Icon Books 2013) and Sedated: how modern capitalism created our mental health crisis (Atlantic Books 2022).

Therapy and Social Change Network

The Therapy and Social Change (TaSC) Network is a broad affiliation of people interested in exploring the interface between therapeutic ideas and practices and social justice perspectives and actions. We are interested both in the ways that counselling and psychotherapy can be practiced with social justice concerns in mind (for instance, tackling unconscious biases in the consulting room), and also in the ways that therapeutic principles and practices can be extended out to the wider social realm (for instance, developing social and emotional literacy in schools).