While the US is falling in respect to its world standing in everything from standard of living, to health care to education it is expanding its world leadership in terms of depression. The US currently claims over 1% of its populace as clinically depressed and this rate is on a geometric climb. Not surprisingly the US leads the world in the dispensing of medications to help its citizens manage and control their depression.
So this begs the question, why are US citizens so depressed and why are they so prone to depression?
One of the more glib answers put by the popular media is that US citizens have too much time on their hands, and one of the by products of having a lot of free time is depression. Americans, we’re told, have too much time on their hands. People who are struggling to survive do not have enough time to think about depression. The relative wealth of the US allows its citizens the luxury of depression.
Even though there is a sliver of truth in the statement, it is highly misleading. First, most US citizens are working more than their counterparts in other industrialized nations. Most European workers can count on at least twice as many holidays and vacation days as Americans and those nations with a higher standard of living are not as depressed as Americans. Hence the too much wealth and too little work hypothesis for US depression is a little weak.
Let’s tale a look at some of the supposed psychosocial factors which are reputed to engender depression or are its tell tale signs and see how these elements may be fostered in American life.
Clinical depression is considered to be a state whereby one feels helpless and hopeless. A partial list of some of the causes or elements of depression would include the following feelings and events: isolation, non validation, poor self-esteem, chronic deception, betrayal, biochemistry, powerlessness, feelings of inadequacy/failure, lack of interests, lack of control, chronic stress, blame and guilt.
The US has long been considered a leader in having a chronically stressful lifestyle. When I was young the fast paced life style of the US was deemed a central component in the high rate of hypertension and heart problems of its citizens. The current pace of life now makes those times look relatively sedate and rustic. Not only does the US not have as much vacation time as other industrial nations, but we also now feel a need to be on line and do work even on our off hours.
In a highly competitive based free market economy it is hard to ever feel good about time off, or that you’re not losing ground anytime you aren’t in work mode. It is definitely stressful when you feel a personal responsibility to be successful and not let the competition pass you by. Today’s professionals such as doctors and lawyers cannot produce the lifestyle offered previous generations. Since the 60’s the number of hours needed to maintain the income, standard of living and lifestyle of these professions has risen almost yearly.
In the late 80’s I had conversations with professional friends of mine (doctors, lawyers, psychologists, pharmacists, etc.) about changes in their field and how it affected their roles as parents and bread earners. They were unanimous in their assertion that they had to work 6o hours a week to accomplish what they use to in a 40 hour week. Now, they claim they have to work well over 60 hours week to maintain a standard of living they had at the 90’s which was still short of the standard of living they had in the 80’s.
More work and less financial benefit would logically lead to more stress which in turn could lead to depression. Having a longer work week also has one have less time for family and friends and relationships in general, and one of the hallmarks of depression is the feeling of isolation engendered by a lack of relationships or a lack of time for intimate relationships. Considering this, it should come as no surprise that these professions are high up on the list of those being diagnosed with depression.
Not only professionals but many American’s are finding themselves too busy to have much time for relationships. Often times in two income families there is little time left over after work and other responsibilities such as house cleaning, cooking, banking, shopping and the like are taken care of. Add a couple of children in the mix and one and one time becomes an endangered species.
This lack of time together makes it difficult for relationships to survive, for either you grow together or you grow apart. When people spend more time with coworkers than spouses it is not unusual for people to have an affair with a coworker and leave their spouse.
If you than throw in the fact that both members of two worker households have financial freedom, this makes their being able to leave the relationship easier for both people. This fact is demonstrated by the nations high divorce rate, and studies show that divorce and depression often go hand in hand. Likewise, the early onset of depression in adolescents or even younger children is often sparked by the divorce of their parents.
We are often told that anyone in the US can be become wealthy and successful. This belief also spawns a counter-belief, and that is that everyone in the US should be successful. If you live in the US there is almost no valid reason to struggle or fail. If you aren’t wealthy or successful you have no one to blame but yourself. This turns the possibility of success into a responsibility for success, and makes the pressure of success a constant stressor.
The tacit statement is that only the lazy and unresourceful do not succeed in our society. Since almost everyone in our society has some redeeming or outstanding quality they have no excuse for failure. A short list of the qualities a person could use to become successful include being clever, ambitious, talented or intelligent.
Finding a person who does have one of these qualities or a synonym for one of these qualities is rare. If not talented you could at least be skillful, productive, earnest or devoted. If not creative you could be resourceful, inventive, quirky or eccentric. If not intelligent you could be knowledgeable, informed, or an expert in a very narrow field of information. To be successful in this culture all you supposedly need is to have and use any of these or a multitude of other marketable qualities.
In a society espousing this belief while having the factual reality be that more and more money is going into fewer and fewer hands it can cause feelings of failure in a large percentage of people. Our current economic downturn with its booming unemployment only exacerbates the negative feeling of self inherent in the American dream.
Add to this the fact that in most arenas of competition in our society there are far more winners than losers. In every race their is one winner and the rest are losers. For every business that succeeds there are dozens which fail. Every actor, author, athlete, musician and entrepreneur who succeeds is met by hundreds or thousands who didn’t. Even those who succeed for a time being may fail in the long run.
Societies with set caste and class systems can breed their own forms of depression, but they pale in comparison to the vast numbers of people who find our competitive structure overwhelming and depressing. A little realism would go a long way towards reducing the high percentage of depression in our society.
One of the most pervasive success myths in our culture is the advanced education myth. If you want to succeed and get a good job the saying goes, stay in school and get an advanced degree. The truth of the matter is that our society and job structure cannot support a highly educated work force. There are not millions of jobs sitting out there waiting to be filled by people with advanced degrees. In fact those with advanced degrees attempting to get into the workforce are finding it impossible to find jobs worthy of their educational qualifications.
The above discussion outlines some of the basic reasons that depression is on the rise in the US. Yet, I have yet to talk about the two most likely reasons for why the US leads the world in depression. These two aspects are fear and uncertainty. The US leads the world in the production of fear and uncertainty and the knowledge of how these mechanisms can foster and maintain a state of depression.
I would have to say that lying and deception are central and endemic to both our politics and economics.
We live in the most blatant and proud consumer society on the planet. Our roles as both voters and consumers makes it central to both businesses and governmental bodies to manage and influence us. The key to their success is their successful management of public opinion, public perception, public sentiment and consumer confidence.
In order to get elected politicians must tell us what they think we want to hear rather than what they honesty think. Even if what they are saying is basically what they believe, the very words they choose and how they frame their ideas is done for a specific purpose. Their goal is to manage and influence our perceptions more than it is to accurately convey their ideas.
Most of what they say is designed for effect rather than truth, it is about form rather than substance. Political statements are more about inciting a desired reaction or preventing an undesired reaction than expressing a specific idea. Almost every statement uttered by a politician is done with the utmost care and craftsmanship. Citizens are being handled and their perceptions and feelings are being managed. We are never treated honestly or in a direct fashion, rather we are treated as voters and consumers of their rhetoric.
The fact that it is much easier to destroy than to build, results in politicians attacking their opponents position rather than articulating their own. This results in the use of fear, anger and even hatred as being the norm as opposed to positive feelings. Everyday politicians are telling us that we should support and vote for them because their opponents are bad, evil or a threat to our way of life. Everyday our being managed and deceived to hate, fear and be angry at the other side. Each day we hear a number of people talk out about the dangers of the others and the threat they pose.
How can that not be depressing? How can associations based of fear and hatred not diminish our feelings of happiness and safety?
We openly talk about spin, and that all politicians have a hidden agenda and cannot be trusted. Poll after poll show that politicians are some of the least trusted people in society. Yet despite this we day-to-day lives are dependent on trusting them to make important decisions on our behalf. How can that not lead to depression and/or crazy making behavior?
In the political realm we also have the corporate media complaining about the media as if the media were someone else. We are being asked to believe these people on TV and in the newspapers are telling us the truth while the media is corrupt. And in the process not consider these media people not to be the media.
Though we all know that the entire corporate media is owned by a few families who own a handful of corporations, we are asked to suspend this knowledge and think that those reporting the news are objective and not representing the views of their bosses. Again, isn’t it logical that all this deception, perceptual management and misrepresentation could lead to the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness of depression? Doesn’t it make sense that a systemic and pervasive avoidance of truth and honesty would foster depression?
How can one feel anchored to themselves and others in a world of incessant manipulation and deception?
A chronic lack of self-validation is another stated element or cause of depression. How can one get validation is a society that is always treating you as an object to influence and manage? How can one get validation when reality and what we’re are being told is real doesn’t match up?
Misinformation and deception are just as predominant in our role as consumers as it is in our role as voter. Hardly a moment goes by in which we are not being coaxed or encouraged to buy something. In almost every sales pitch the benefits of our potential purchase are exaggerated and the drawbacks of not purchasing or buying a competitors product are likewise skewed.
In commerce as in politics we are forever the targets or spin, deception and manipulation. Any thing said to us has a purpose and seldom a truth. If we are being complimented is to often to help set up a sale. Likewise if we are being warned it is not so much about care and concern for our welfare as a reason or motivation to purchase the desired product.
Oftentimes people make a purchase to fill a perceived lack or void in their life, or to fit in with the group. Salesmen take advantage of this fact by trying to convince you that you need their product or it will make you happy. Many sales techniques focus on your being viewed as cool or in if you buy their product.
No matter what purchases you make there are more commercials and sales pitches coming your way. A good consumer can never be content and satiated, and so the goal is to always have you wanting more and be dissatisfied. Isn’t the state of never feeling complete and satisfied a working definition of depression?
Being told the truth is a rare event in our roles as consumers and voters. In the rare instances when we are being told the truth, it seldom occurs without some spin or management agenda being attached to it.
When you consider how pervasive these two roles are in our daily lives you realize how rare simple honesty can be. This means is a very functional sense reality is never quite what is seems. It makes it hard for us to ever trust what we hear or the people who speak to us. Not being able to trust others makes it difficult for us to get the type of validation we need to feel healthy and normal.
We are told we live in the freest society on the planet yet we are forever being watched and monitored. One wonders how we can rectify being the freest nation with the fact that we have the largest prison population (per capita) in the world. Again this sort of verbal contradiction with reality probably eats away at us in a not totally conscious way.
In my next post I plan on doing a more extensive exploration fear mongering plays in our nations tendency towards depression.
Before closing I would like to mention the negative role western medicine has in our feeling secure and validated. Due to how it functions the goal of western medicine seems to be to tell you something you don’t know about yourself, to surprise you. If you feel great and have no complaints they will usually run tests. Seldom do tests ever come back as perfect, whatever that means, and some recommendation or warning sign not identified.
In most cases most people by their forties are on some form of medication and on some stage of alert regarding some potential problem. This is just another off shoot of our consumer culture where we are never OK and complete. Yet, what modern medicine does is take away our ability to know ourselves or monitor our own health. We become stupid and dependent on machines and technology to tell us what we don’t know about ourselves.
On the other hand if I go see a doctor regarding a specific complaints, and the tests see no problem, than I’m either imagining the malady or it just doesn’t exist. In either case my perceptions about myself are both unimportant and wrong. The fear of the unknown as well as not being to perceive reality accurately are precursors for depression. Our modern medical system is not very reinforcing or self validating.
The point of this post wasn’t to say that our society is the only one that promotes and fosters depression. Yet, it did strive to explore some of the reasons and characteristics which could explain why depression is so rampant in the US. In many cases stated above the US is not alone in what it does, but it may stand out by the degree and frequency in which these practices are utilized.
This post though long could have be a book. So, I ask your indulgence with the half statements and innuendo this format demanded.