A report in today’s Guardian tells us that “the use of antidepressants has risen by more than a quarter in England in just three years”, and goes on to give a financial calculation of the impact of depression:
Depression is also costing the economy nearly £11bn a year in lost earnings, NHS care and drug prescriptions. Research by the House of Commons found the cost to the NHS of treating the illness is more than £520m a year. People who are unable to work due to depression lose £8.97bn of potential earnings a year, while the loss of earnings from suicide is put at £1.47bn.
Someone on Twitter commented on this research:
It occurred to me that what would really be harsh would be to offset against that the financial savings of suicide (reduced healthcare and pension costs, for example). But if we’re making a cool, dispassionate assessment of the financial costs of suicide, why shouldn’t that be taken into account?
But of course, that would be more than harsh: it would be obscene. Which shows that the real problem is trying to calculate a figure for the “cost to the economy” of depression and suicide in the first place. It reflects and reinforces the commodification of social and political issues, in which a problem only becomes politically visible once it is expressed in terms of its “cost to the economy” (preferably ending in the word “billion” or, increasingly, “trillion”).
This has some unfortunate consequences: for example, the way in which chronic illness and disability have come to be seen, on a political level, principally in terms of their “cost to the taxpayer” – so that the solution is to reduce that cost by any means necessary, through the removal or reduction of social security benefits, with the human consequences seen as merely incidental; “anecdotal” evidence unworthy of political consideration.