Depression – Why is it an epidemic?

I have no idea but it seems that neither does anyone else.  If you read YesFive, it should come as no surprise that I do have an opinion.  I spent some time researching possible explanations for the horrific rise of depression in developed countries and am left wholly unsatisfied.  Admittedly, I am not the best researcher, especially with two 15 month old boys on my lap.  I would love it, though, if I have missed some great scholarly article that presents some causes of this depressing rise — with evidence to back it up.  Please let me know if you have read anything that makes sense.  I am sure that the following theories are not original.  The lack of data does lead me to wonder – if more money and time were spent on identifying a cause rather than on hiring actors to drag themselves through an antidepressant commercial, would we have a better shot at a solution?  Of course we need treatment, but why are so many people depressed in the first place?  Why has there been a reported 20% rise in children with depression?  Why are pharmaceutical companies looking to pre-schoolers as their new market for antidepressants?

Here is what I think.  Feel free to disagree.  Let me know what you think.

1.  Technology – I actually have some evidence to back this one up.  In the general population, unipolar depression (that is, not bipolar) has increased dramatically since World War II.  In the Amish population, it has not increased much, if at all.  The constant bombardment of phones ringing, TVs blaring, video games attacking and computers humming may simply be too much for the human brain to handle.  I believe in evolution but I also believe that it takes a really long time for a species to adapt – long … as in many, many generations.  Our children are TEN times more likely to be depressed than their grandparents, who lived much harder, less pampered lives.  Many of them lived through the real Depression.  You can argue that they just didn’t know enough to say that they were depressed but I don’t think that explains it all.  I think that technology and all the advances that make life easier are outrunning our ability to neurologically process them.

2.  Communication – When I was growing up, my parents watched, at most, half an hour of TV news a day and, aside from work, were in contact with only a handful of people.  Today, we are getting news updates, fashion updates, sports updates by the second.  We touch base with dozens of people each day by email and texting.  Is there just too much information?  Is there just too much bad, depressing news?  Is there too much pressure to be constantly available to all people?  When I was on call as a resident, we carried beepers.  This was before everyone had a cell phone.  I hated the feeling and used to call it the human leash because someone could always find me.  The way we live now, so tied to the world, is more like the human cage.  You can’t get away from it.

3.  Faith – This is always a touchy topic and I usually try to avoid writing anything too polarizing, but …   Years ago, faith in God or in something or someone larger than us, was strong and alive.  I can only speak to Catholicism but I think the same can be true for many religions.  The churches used to be packed on Sunday and fairly crowded at daily masses.  People prayed more and talked about their belief more.  They put their lives in God’s hands and they were convinced that they were never alone.  What a beautiful feeling that is, what a comfort – to pass on some of the burden of living to Someone who can handle it; to believe that no matter how bad your moment is, there is Someone who loves you unconditionally and who will not leave your side.  Prayer is a form of meditation and religion gives those who are faithful a higher purpose.  Meditation and the sense that life is meaningful are powerful tools to ward off the darkness of depression.

4.  Airbrushing – Our societal obsession with looks is bad enough.  Tack onto that the ability to turn simply beautiful people into super-beautiful, perfect people and you have the recipe for a depression epidemic.  My personal therapy is to avoid newsstands altogether.

5.  Judgements – Somehow, as a nation, we have lost a sense of community and have gained a sense of entitlement when it comes to passing judgement on others – not only celebrities.  “Can you believe she said that?”  “I can’t believe he did that.”  Personal business has become everyone’s business and the fear of being critiqued can supersede the desire to do the right thing.  This is especially true in mothering.  I only looked for my daughter’s gloves this morning because I didn’t want anyone to think she was neglected.  This was especially important today because yesterday I went to pick her up at an after-school activity that she only goes to on Tuesdays and sent out an email to see if anyone else wanted me to pick up their child at the activity they were not at. Go ahead – judge away. It is Friday and nothing can get me down on a Friday!

My apologies for the lack of fact – it is the best I can offer.  Have a great weekend!

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