Simplistic thinking on the causes of human misery

Psychologists from Britain challenge simplistic thinking on the causes of human misery

Update 16 Dec., Another letter from UK psychologists appears in The Independent – scroll down the letters here. A more detailed consideration and critique of the Layard et al. study has been provided by Psychologists Against Austerity

A recent article in the British newspaper The Guardian drew attention to a report by the economist, Richard Layard, which claimed that “Eliminating depression and anxiety would reduce misery by 20% compared to just 5% if policymakers focused on eliminating poverty”. It is a rather circular reasoning to say that misery is caused by depression and anxiety when these are labels for the same thing. The psychologists, in a response published in the Guardian, make it clear that reducing poverty and ensuring good mental health services are not alternatives, but both are needed. Poverty and underfunded health care are both consequences of current government austerity policies. In taking this initiative they are playing an important part in de-ideologising the nature and causes of human distress. The Guardian also published another article that also argued for the interdependence of poverty and mental health problems.

Dear Editor,
Richard Layard is promoting the idea that better provision of mental health services is more important than reducing social inequalities in promoting human happiness (Happiness depends on health and  friends, not money, says new study, Guardian, Monday 12th December). This is a false dichotomy. Evidence suggests that austerity damages our collective health. Deepening economic and social divides, bullying, abuse, misogyny, racism, dehumanisation and consequent insecurity, trauma, social exclusion, neglect and despair underpin the current tsunami of desolation in the UK and beyond, specially in our children. These are largely economic and political matters, requiring cultural, social and political solutions.  Psychological therapies, humanely delivered to those who want them, have a part to play in ameliorating human suffering, and we do need more flexible, kind and supportive services. But we must not pathologise those who are damaged by the injustices they experience. Degradation by the benefits system is now devastating many with long term illnesses in the UK. To imagine  that therapy, rather than social transformation, can address or prevent the conditions that lead to despair is to be wilfully blind.


Annie Mitchell Clinical and community psychologist, Helen Beckwith Clinical psychologist, Jan Bostock Clinical and community psychologist, Anna Daiches Clinical psychologist, Suzanne Elliot Clinical psychologist, Danielle Gaynor Clinical psychologist, Carl Harris Clinical and community psychologist, Jennifer Marris Psychologist, James Randall-James Clinical psychologist in training, Eleanor Schoultz Clinical psychologist, Sarah Wolf Clinical psychologist in training, Sally Zlotovitz Community psychologist

Since the letter was sent off to the paper, a lot more psychologists have added their names, endorsing it. The full list (still being added to), including the original signatories, follows.

Annie Mitchell, Clinical and Community Psychologist

Jacqui Akhurst, Counselling and Community Psychologist

Tarick Ali, Clinical psychologist.

Thomas Allan, Service Manager

Cathy Amor, Clinical Psychologist

Kara Bagnall, Clinical Psychologist

Helen Beckwith, Clinical Psychologist

Jan Bostock, Clinical and Community Psychologist

Nina Browne, Clinical Psychologist

Mark Burton, Community and Clinical Psychologist

Tamsin Curno, Drama Therapist

Anna Daiches, Clinical Psychologist

Suzanne Elliot, Clinical Psychologist

Romana Farooq Community Psychologist

Gabrielle Farron, Clinical Psychologist

Colm Gallagher, Psychologist

Danielle Gaynor, Clinical Psychologist

Shreena Ghelani, Clinical Psychologist

Carl Harris, Clinical and Community Psychologist

Lealah Hewitt, Clinical Psychologist

Helen Johnson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Greg Madison, Applied Psychologist.

Jennifer Marris, Psychologist

Paul Moloney, Counselling Psychologist

Lucie Nalletamby, Clinical Psychologist

Steve Melluish, Clinical Psychologist

Ian Parker, Honorary Professorial Research Fellow

Cristian Pena, Clinical Psychologist

Gillian Proctor, Clinical Psychologist

James Randall- James, Clinical Psychologist in Training

Lana Renny, Clinical Psychologist

Eleanor Schoultz, Clinical Psychologist

Melanie Smith, Clinical Psychologist

Daniel Taggart, Clinical Psychologist

Lisa Thorne Clinical & Community Psychologist

Leslie Valon-Szots, Psychologist

Carl Walker, Community Psychologist

Jay Watts, Clinical Psychologist

Ste Weatherhead, Clinical Psychologist

Sarah Wolf, Clinical Psychologist in Training

Sally Zlotovitz, Community Psychologist


Call for abstracts – book on the personal debt industry

 Call for Abstracts
The Personal Debt Industry: International Perspectives 
(tentative title)
eds. Serdar M. Değirmencioğlu  & Carl Walker
Recent years have seen a considerable and sustained boom in personal debt in many countries around the world. There also appears to be a growing consensus that experiences of over-indebtedness are associated with very considerable distress and suffering.
Policy formulation on personal debt management in recent years has had a tendency to sideline problematic macroscopic political and economic changes and instead locate experiences of personal debt as problems of individual financial incompetence. The problem of over-indebtedness and financial suffering has become changeable through the proficiency of a growing number of financial experts whose remit is to provide individual solutions for naïve financial decision makers. In doing so, economic and social policies that have brought about a greater need for a greater number of people to rely on personal debt remain largely beyond public view.
With this book we intend to bring together examples from around the world that illustrate the international differences and commonalities with regards to the economic, political and psychosocial contexts of personal debt. In so doing we intend to understand the growing problem of personal debt, not only as an issue of personal conduct, but as an often problematic nexus of corporate, political and economic forces that serve to locate people within national and international industries of debt and debt management.
We invite initial interest from scholars, activists and interested parties around the world who may be able to contribute to the following aspects:
1. Describe the nature and extent of the problem in a given context (i.e., country, region, etc.);
2. Explore the strategies and practices of the financial and non-financial institutions that have worked to sustain problematic debt industries;
3. Exploring the psychosocial impact of a range of debt industries around the world;
4. Consideration of how psychology has operated to serve and sustain debt industries;
5. Consideration of how cycles of debt can be disrupted.
Important dates
April 1 – Deadline for abstracts
April 15 – Decisions regarding abstracts and feedback to potential contributors
September 1 – Deadline for first chapter drafts
October 1 – Feedback to authors
December 15 – Deadline for revised chapters
Please send a 500-word abstract to Serdar M. Değirmencioğlu <>.