This blog article in Psychology Today traces the top five causes of the epidemic of depression here in the U.S. (and in fact, throughout much of the world). These include:
1. The erosion of traditional social structures and communities. “A gradual disintegration of the social fabric, which has closely paralleled industrial and technological growth, has resulted in greater isolation and loneliness… we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends, and neighbors. Urbanization and the breakup of the extended family and rural community are leading causes of this social atomization.”
2. Changes in modes of communication. “Following the physical upheaval of urbanization, the world has been swept by a tidal wave of electronic innovation… [The] alarming rise in depression among U.S. youth during the period 2004–2015… coincides with the birth and rapid growth of smartphone usage during the same period. While this does not prove a cause-effect relationship, it would seem to reinforce an urgent need to closely examine the impact of smartphone usage on the communication skills and psychological well-being of young people.”
3. Changes in Diet. “Consumption of processed foods, which mostly contain a serious imbalance of omega fats, large quantities of sugar, and a lack of fermented ingredients, are radically affecting the delicate balance of our gut flora. A landmark comparison between North Africans and North Americans revealed sharp declines in bacterial diversity among the North American group, including genera containing the psychobiotic strains… Is fast food and processed food throwing our microbiome, that is, our internal environment, into chaos in the same way that pollution is destroying the macrobiome?”
[Note: the Weston A. Price Foundation has been saying this since 1999; Dr. Price himself raised the alarm regarding processed foods vs traditional dietary patterns, back in the 1930s and 40s. This is not new information! But it’s finally beginning to be recognized by the mainstream.]
4. The intense competition surrounding education among industrialized nations. “Korea, Japan, China, and to a growing degree, Western nations, are experiencing an exponential rise in youth depression… fierce competition in the academic arena, in which academic success is equated with social and economic “success” by parents, is leading to a loss of personal autonomy and acute stress. Secondary schools are now largely focused on exam-centered curricula… marked by a lack of content related to life skills, social-emotional learning, and wellbeing in general.”
5. The familiar socio-economic suspects, including war and poverty. “Nations strongly affected by conflict and extreme poverty, with an emphasis on extreme, rank relatively high on the depression scale and low in happiness and satisfaction. Nonetheless, the relationship between GDP and depression/happiness rates is by no means linear… Personal freedom and the presence of social networks, two factors inversely correlated to depression mentioned above, are highly related to scores on the Positive Experience Index of the Global Emotions Report.”
Assuming that the above is accurate, and based on my own experience and informal research, I believe it is, what is most interesting in all this to me – aside from a certain degree of grim satisfaction of the “I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so” variety – is that four out of five of these factors are both endemic to, and so far as can be determined, unique to, our modern/postmodern age. Our ancestors had rough lives in many respects – rougher than ours in most – but they do not appear to have suffering from comparable levels of depression… which has spiked in recent years, as recounted in the linked article, and many others.
These contributing factors to the contemporary depression epidemic can therefore (despite the usual disclaimers about correlation not equalling causation) be pretty much laid at the feet of our abandonment of traditional approaches, thoughts, understandings, philosophies, and ways of living and being, in so many areas of life, from foodways to lifeways, from communication to education.
This mindless neophilia, this willingness (even eagerness) to cast aside the traditional, the tried and true, and to eternally chase after the supposedly “new and improved,” which is so characteristic of our present society, is going to kill us – is killing us – if we do not moderate it with a more sensitive and sympathetic appropriation and re-adoption of traditional norms and ways of life.
Once again, I hate to say I told you so, but……!