Your gaze is vague and disinterested; hearing requires concentration; words have no order; sentences struggle to form and, once uttered, disappear in a senseless fragmented way; your sense of taste goes into hibernation; your limbs are flaccid, your mind is empty. Everything is flat and dull. Nothing matters…
We all know of someone that has suffered from Major Depression at one point or another in their lives, even if we were not fully aware of it. Presently, the amount of reported depression cases seems to be increasing drastically in the Western World. This modern-day epidemic preys on unsuspecting victims, feeding on feelings of vulnerability and helplessness.
Is it just my imagination or is depression on the rise? Would it be so crazy to suggest that our society is churning out a race of people who are paralyzed in the face of sadness and loss? Indeed there are a growing number of people who suggest that this claim is a far cry from insanity.
Most psychiatrists would argue that depression is largely the result of a biochemical imbalance in the brain and is therefore considered a genetic disorder. In other words, crooked thoughts are predetermined by the existence of crooked molecules. This paradigm suggests that our dispositions are mapped out at birth. It tends to shield people from the responsibility of improving their lives.
In the same way that doctors use medication to treat cancer patients, many psychiatrists claim that people with major depression are unable to improve their state of mind without the help of mind-altering drugs. Sadly, many doctors believe that these pills are healing rather than merely controlling their patients’ illnesses.
I’m certainly not against the use of certain psychotropic and neuroleptic drugs to give the sufferer a time out period. What does concern me, however, is the sheer volume of young adults who are dependent on various medications (each with their own unpronounceable name) because it gives them a pleasantly trippy feeling, a state in which they are content to remain for rest of their lives.
Martin Seligman’s study done at the University of Pennsylvania proved that the incidence of depression is definitely increasing. Two large sample studies showed that the prevalence of depression in young people is now ten times higher than it was 50 years ago.
Seligman examined two contemporary communities who live outside of modern culture – the Kaluli people of New Guinea and the Old Order Amish of Pennsylvania. He found that neither group experience rates of depression even close to that in our society.
He noticed that in these cultures, there is a large degree of reciprocity between the society and the individual – a real integration within their tribe. The sense of belonging that seems to be somewhat lacking in our society may prevent the manifestation of many cases of depression in these alternative cultures.
There seems to be something about modern life that creates fertile soil for this urban epidemic. Maybe we should go back to living in small tribes. A radical statement, maybe. An inappropriate one, I don’t think so. One obvious change in western society is the increasing emphasis placed on the self and less on the community, more on feelings and less on behavior.
There is a real hunger for individuality. We have developed a “Cult of the Ego” and popping Prozac has become our pastime. Periods of sadness are being dulled and emotional voids temporarily filled. The “we” is now obsolete; the “I” has become the hero of the new millennium. We have convinced ourselves that we can do it all alone, that we should do it alone.
The only problem is that we can’t. That is clear from the statistics. Something is missing; something has gone horribly wrong. Society is crying out for some kind of buffer zone, which will tell us that things will be ok when crises occur; that some kind of benevolent institution, be it the family, religion, or the community will help and support us, making our problems seem less eternal.
This may well prevent very natural feelings of helplessness turning to hopelessness and finally developing into full-blown depression. In the darkness of modernity a blind search to find a compass point for life is going on. The dim city lights aren’t bright enough to guide us through the labyrinth. We are not on this journey alone and the illusion that we are must be expunged.