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  • Mabad Ali

The Burnout of Economic Growth

The world is constantly changing. With electric cars being regarded as the future of transport and continuous efforts underway to search for a possibility of life on Mars, there is no end to technology transforming our lives. The constant urge to acquire more resources and expand overall output has certainly improved living standards. At the same time, soaring inflation and squeezed pockets during the pandemic took a toll on the world’s population. A state of gloom and dejection took over and overwhelmed the world population, making Darwin’s theory of the ‘survival of the fittest’ even more relevant. During the pandemic, it became increasingly hard to make ends meet. People became so fixated on upping their human capital and survival that mental health ended up taking a backseat.

The pandemic distorted the way we live - claimed millions of lives, reduced social interactions and led to economic slowdowns, all worsening the psychological well-being of most people. These times have been trying and testing the mental strength of people rigorously and research indicates increased incidences of mental health ailments like anxiety, depression and bipolar disorders. A study within the USA showed that pre-pandemic and post-pandemic depression symptoms had a three-fold spike, with similar trends discovered in other mental health illnesses. Several under-developed and developing nations often dispel the significance of taking good care of mental health, even during a pandemic. In a country like India, where women, low-income households and under-priviledged sections of society bear the brunt of any change in the social landscape, the pandemic wasn’t easy on them. Women were often subjected to domestic abuse and sexual assault while the poor, especially migrant labourers were walking on a thin line of survival and near-death starvation. The pandemic has changed the way we live and it has been ascertained that it will never be the same or go back to normal, for better or for worse. Therefore, it is of utmost importance and urgency that the physical and mental sufferings of all individuals and households be acknowledged and taken care of.

The reins of the new-age tech savvy world is in the hands of the younger generation. In recent years, a general trend in the world economy’s growth stands at about 2%.

An interesting aspect to note here is that, according to a study in China, higher rates of GDP growth per capita were associated with a deterioration of mental health, indicated by higher incidences of depression symptoms, cognitive impairment, and life dissatisfaction. The effects are small in size, quite similar in men and women and are modified by the level of income, with the population of lower income being the most harmed by economic growth.

This clearly suggests that the economic growth of nations is at the expense of the working population having adverse effects on their physical and mental well-being.

It is imperative that poor mental health days, when workers aren’t in the best of their health, will hurt companies financially and ultimately affect the entire nation’s GDP. In an analysis of economic and demographic data from 2008 to 2014, researchers found that an additional poor mental health day in a single month had been associated with a 1.84% decrease in real per capita earned income growth rate, with $53 billion fewer total incomes each year. To give a perspective of the size of the problem, the researchers added that over the next 20 years, the worldwide economic cost of mental illness will be more than $16 trillion, more than the cost of any other non-communicable illness. The effect tends to be stronger in rural counties, which often have limited resources and are left to fend for themselves. In rural regions, poor mental health was linked to a 2.3% reduction in income growth compared to a 0.87% decrease in urban counties. If poor mental health days have a greater impact in the poorer countries, it would be even more difficult for them to keep up with the rich countries.

Owing to increased concerns on mental health, several companies and countries are contemplating on the idea of four-day workweek, instead of five long excruciating days of work, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Pilot tests have been conducted in countries

like Finland to test the efficacy of a rather short workweek and it has been found that it increases productivity and hence the overall GDP. Kickstarter CEO in the US, Aziz Hasan was forced to switch to remote work during the initial phase of the pandemic and now wishes to reward his employees who stuck around with a new advantage: the four-day workweek.

He is bound to experiment with it at the beginning of the next year, 2022, to see if it works out and enhances productivity for his company. Several others have begun to consider the idea of a four-day workweek which will help their employees juggle work and home life while having more time for personal pursuits.

While distressed and burned-out populations might be working hard to keep economies growing, it will not take long for the tables to turn. Neglecting mental health for the development of a nation’s economy will pose grave consequences in the future. Mental health and development goes hand in hand, investing for mental health means investing for development. To ensure that it is taken care of, the key is to sensitize policymakers to the adverse consequences of mental health. It is the responsibility of the state to increase investment and public expenditure to ensure a healthy living environment. Researchers suggest that investing in mental health can be one way to reduce the cost of poor mental health, especially in the hardest-hit countries. Mental health plays a key role in development and therefore, focusing upon it will automatically generate economic growth that will integrate both human and economic development.

How long will it take till we finally embrace life and work for self fulfillment rather than self destruction?

Check out the August edition of the Probe!

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