Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Capitalism Caused the Suicide Epidemic. We Must Overthrow It

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Many NGOs, politicians, and corporations will release statements on the need to raise awareness around individual mental health. But they only pay lip service to a deeply systemic issue that is rooted in the injustices and exploitation of capitalism.

Enid Brain

September 10, 2020
Facebook Twitter Share

“Instead of accepting the vast privatization of stress that has taken place over the last thirty years, we need to ask: how has it become acceptable that so many people, and especially so many young people, are ill? The ‘mental health plague’ in capitalist societies would suggest that, instead of being the only social system that works, capitalism is inherently dysfunctional, and that the cost of it appearing to work is very high.” — Mark Fisher (Capitalist Realism, 2009)

Every year on September 10, people around the world observe World Suicide Prevention Day. Organizations such as the World Health Organization and others use the day to build awareness about the causes, signs, and ways to prevent suicide. But these efforts at best attempt to put a bandaid on a deeply complicated issue and at worst obfuscate the material conditions and systemtic factors that contribute to rising rates of suicide around the world. . When confronting the underlying causes of the horrifically high rates of suicide, we have to understand that capitalism is the root cause of many deaths by suicide, as well as the lack of resources to help people who are struggling. As such, we need to fight to prevent suicide with an anti-capitalist perspective.

Contrary to messaging from many non-profits and government organizations, suicide prevention should not be — cannot be — an individualized task. It is not, as many suggest, the job solely of individuals to check in on their loved ones and ensure that they have the help they need. By that same token, it cannot be the sole responsibility of the person who is struggling to find help for themselves. Rather, we must understand that we have a collective societal responsibility to look after those who are confronting a mental health crisis. Given this, any conversation about suicide prevention must center the need to construct a society that is designed to aid people rather than exploit them. Because at every turn, the capitalist state has failed us. It has left us to die, to mourn our loved ones, so long as we continue to make our bosses money.

Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic crisis are increasing suicide rates to an alarming degree. A study published in August reported that 25.5 percent of people aged 18 to 24 said that they had seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days. Like other public health crises, suicide disproportionately impacts marginalized communities. 41 percent of trans* adults report having attempted suicide while the suicide rate for Native youth is 2.5 times higher than the national average.  

As the economic crisis worsens and more people lose their jobs and homes, millions more will die as the rates of suicide continue to rise. Worsening material conditions will lead to increased suicide rates among vulnerable, exploited, and oppressed people in particular. Studies show a strong association between poverty and youth suicide rates, and about 30 percent of those who die by suicide are unemployed. This shows that suicide is not the inevitable result of a personal psychological problem but, rather, a reaction to despair caused by material conditions. It is not merely a personal decision but a symptom of a larger societal problem.

That capitalists and their governments are responsible for these deaths must never be forgotten. In the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the government has not forgiven rent, has not cancelled student loans, has not provided free healthcare, has not extended livable unemployment, and has done nothing to protect the millions of jobs that were lost. 

It is true, of course, that suicide has a variety of causes including both material conditions and underlying mental health struggles, and it is overly simplistic to lay the entiriety of the blame for suicides at the feet of capitalism. However, capitalism has created oppressive and alienating conditions while at the same time systematically depriving people of necessary resources. This is especially acute in the United States where healthcare is privatized and mental health care is harder to obtain than it is elsewhere. 

Given this, any discussion of mental health and suicide prevention must acknowledge that we will never be able to truly care for people and prevent suicide under capitalism. As long as people are exploited, alientated from their labor, oppressed, and deprived of resources by the state, there will be a suicide epidemic. 

This is not to claim that, on the day after the revolution, all mental health struggles will disappear. Far from it. But the way that our society currently addresses these issues is, to paraphrase the Mark Fisher, inherently dysfunctional. For capitalists, millions of suicide deaths per year is a small price to pay to maintain their power and profits.

Every year around September 10, a plethora of companies, business leaders, and officials release statements or products to support suicide prevention. Vice President Mike Pence’s wife Karen Pence, a teacher at a school that explicitly excludes LGBTQ+ students and staff tweeted out her support for suicide prevention on September 1, saying that it is an “important time to recognize suicide as a public health issue.” In 2017, even Donald Trump himself issued a statement recognizing World Suicide Prevention Day which said that, “As a Nation, we must strive to prevent heartbreaking loss of life caused by suicides.” Last year, Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services likewise tweeted his support.

This shows the limits of a suicide “prevention” that isn’t explicitly anti-capitalist. Of course, almost no one would say that they oppose suicide prevention efforts. But when it comes time to support even the most moderate policies to actually prevent suicide, they merely pay lip service to the issue, hiding beyind empty slogans and instead put profits over human lives.

Famed labor organizer Mother Jones famously said that we must “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” Too many people have already mourned losses and too many more will be mourning in the coming crisis. To honor their legacy, to demand justice for the lives lost, we must fight with every ounce of our resolve against the system of capitalism. Capitalism has damned us to a system of crippling debt, unwavering exploitation, and failing social services. We owe it to ourselves, to all those who are struggling, and to all of those who have died to be relentless in our fight. The suicide epidemic is preventable only by creating a society where people aren’t alienated from their labor, have much better material conditions, and free access to health care — including mental health care. This is the world that we fight for. This year on World Suicide Prevention Day, let us re-affirm our commitment to fighting for a better world against the capitalists and their governments.

Facebook Twitter Share

Enid Brain

Enid is a trans activist, artist, and service industry worker in New York City. Visit her on Twitter at @enidbrain.

Ideas & Debates

Toward a Revolutionary Socialist Network

In this article Warren Montag and Joseph Serrano respond to our call for a network for a working-class party for socialism. 

Warren Montag

September 27, 2023

China’s Rise, ‘Diminished Dependency,’ and Imperialism in Times of World Disorder

In this broad-ranging interview, originally published in LINKS, Trotskyist Fraction member Esteban Mercatante discusses how recent global shifts in processes of capital accumulation have contributed to China’s rise, the new (and old) mechanisms big powers use to plunder the Global South, and its implications for anti-imperialist and working-class struggles today.

Esteban Mercatante

September 22, 2023

What Is the Role of a “Green Card Soldier”? Interview with Sofya Aptekar

While both capitalist parties fight over diversity in the military, Sofya Aptekar’s new book, Green Card Soldier, looks at the experiences of immigrant soldiers in the U.S. military and how oppressed communities are used by the military to legitimize and expand empire.

Sam Carliner

August 22, 2023
All That's Left, the podcast from Left Voice.

#AllThatsLeftPod: Stalinism, Anti-Communism, and the Fate of the Soviet Union — An Interview with Doug Greene

In this episode, we interview author and historian Douglas Greene about his new book “Stalinism and the Dialectics of Saturn: Anticommunism, Marxism, and the Fate of the Soviet Union.”

Left Voice

August 14, 2023


Neither Trump nor Biden Represent the Interests of the Striking Workers

Donald Trump skipped the second GOP debate to go to Michigan to speak on the UAW strike. This, one day after Biden became the first U.S. president to walk a picket line, represents the on-going fight between the parties to win influence over the working class.

Enid Brain

September 29, 2023

The Deadliest Year for U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings Occurred during Biden’s Administration

The humanitarian crisis at the border was created by capitalism. Voting for a lesser evil won’t save the Latin American working class; it will take international, political and strategic solidarity across borders to build a combative immigrants’ rights movement.

Paul Ginestá

September 28, 2023

The Big Three Are Using Layoffs to Punish the UAW and Undermine the Strike

The Big Three are retaliating against the UAW by laying off thousands of its members at plants across the country. Defeating these attacks will require the self organization and mobilization of all the workers.

James Dennis Hoff

September 28, 2023
President Biden visits striking UAW workers in Michigan.

Biden’s Picket Line Visit Doesn’t Mean He Is On Our Side

President Biden’s visit to the UAW picket line shows the strength of the strike — and why it should remain independent from him and the Democrats.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

September 27, 2023