2019-2020 Global Development Studies Senior Thesis Projects

A person smiling.

Kate Roscher '20

Project Title:  Neoliberal Development: Capability Deprivation and Barriers for Positive Mental Health.

Summary:  Market-based approaches to development can increase the prevalence of common mental disorders around the world. Since the 1980s, the Global North has pursued neoliberal policies and has encouraged countries in the Global South to do the same. While these policies focused on the liberalization of markets have led to significant economic growth, they have also challenged people’s emotional well-being. This thesis project explores how the social, political, and economic components of neoliberal development impact mental health. Sociological approaches to mental health are used which take into account how one’s environment impacts their sense of well-being. The emphasis on well-being comes from the World Health Organization's definition of health as,​ “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” As reflected in this definition, emotional and mental well-being indicate a state of human flourishing, rather than simply being free of debilitating mental illness. ​Because of the emphasis on overall well-being rather than solely on mental illness, the focus of this paper relates to the baseline mental health of a population. This can be very indicative of how a state is or is not cultivating the capabilities and well-being of its population. This paper argues that neoliberalism has created a sense of precariousness in communities that has harmful impacts on emotional well-being and therefore has negative implications for development. Further, market-based approaches to development, and their emphasis on competition and productivity, are unable to provide a sense of stability and security to populations. Ultimately, states are the only institution in society that are capable of providing this stability that is crucial to mental health.