I can’t cite that depression is so prevalent in contemporary society because I can’t find any authoritative or official source saying it’s common.
The reason that I am asking is because I see a lot of people unhappy and extremely negative towards life. Most of them regularly visit mental health doctors and diagnosed with different kind of depression.
So, my question arises. Why is depression so prevalent in contemporary society?
One reason is that depression of some kind is fairly common during the course of a human life and we now have drugs to treat it instead of using the old methodology of waiting for it to pass. The result is that depression is identified as a more serious problem than it once was.
There are also many more people who begin life in poor circumstances yet survive to adulthood. Even the most neglectful or abusive families these days are unlikely to have a child pass away. In the past, it was far easier for a neglected child to die of disease. A child might eb wandering the neighborhood much too young, but they won’t be drinking water from a sewage-infested ditch, or picking up worms because they don’t have shoes.
People have too much free time; When you were working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year on the farm/boat/whatever to keep your family fed, you didn’t have time to get depressed. Also, we don’t generally get enough exercise.
Because we talk about such things instead of locking the crazy ones away in an attic without speaking of them or sending them away to an asylum or prescribing bloodletting to balance their humours or recommending a rest cure? Depression has been with humanity for a very long time.
Because the things you need to know to self-diagnose or self-treat it early on aren’t taught in schools, and people have to grow up and become clinically depressed before somebody else will say “Hey, you seem a little down…”
In very short, realizing that you’ve made poor life choices when better ones were available and offered to you. People are increasingly pushed to make bad choices, and there comes a point at which they add up, whether the victim consciously realized it or not.
It can be bombing high school and putting your life on a permanently reduced track, or choosing the wrong major and career… or any of many things that should have been better chosen and now are difficult to change.
I agree with most of the reasons already given. Also, in a subsistence society every single person is important and valued. In a highly developed economy like the one we live in, people can be useless if they don’t make an effort to not be. That’s bad for your mental state.
Is it actually more prevalent than any other time in history? Or are we simply more aware of it since it is talked about more openly now? Does seem a pretty popular diagnosis though, Ive known some who seem to wear it as a badge of honor and use it for all sorts of excuses. Not meaning to belittle people who do truly suffer(who are many), but I think a lot of cases are just sympathy grabs and cop outs to get out of dealing with stressors that everyone has. Its a foolproof diagnosis for a doc to make as it can hardly be proven wrong, which is very enabling for certain types of people. Some just need a good dose of STFU and grow up Im sure. Again, i know well that real depression exists too, and I would guess that our fast paced, sink or swim, get rich or die trying, info overload type of culture isnt helping either of these groups.
The ancient term was, and remains, “melancholy” – meaning attributed to an excess of the Black Bile humour. The ones who remained functional were just said to be of melancholy disposition (one of the four humour-based personalities), but it was recognized since antiquity that there* were* cases that were abnormal and crippling in intensity and duration of despair, beyond what would be an expected reaction to misfortune or danger.
And yes in the olden times it was more often identified in the better off classes. But that may not be because the peasants and serfs were “too busy surviving to get depressed” but maybe it was because the upper classes wrote only about themselves, and nobody bothered to ask the peasants and serfs how they felt and/or it was just assumed that naturally it sucked to be them.
Based on what I know about depression, I’m guessing the single biggest influence is the lack of strong social ties, relative to the past. Time after time again when it comes to human psychology, we find that people need other people or they get all crazy. The increased secularization of society has led to a breakdown in community bonds, and the rise of less traditional family structures - in many cases, completely dysfunctional ones - both have a serious negative impact on the human psyche.
The concept of ‘‘self-esteem’’ and ‘‘happiness’’ probably also has something to do with it. Both are basically useless concepts. Americans live in a highly individualistic society and most of us have been trained to constantly ask ourselves whether we are actually happy and how we feel about ourselves. Research continually indicates that the less people ask themselves these questions, the happier they are.
And before anyone gets all het up about that secularization comment, I’m a liberal atheist who has suffered from depression my entire life. I just know that religious people tend to be happier, and the reason is almost certainly strong social support networks. When I say ‘‘less traditional family structures’’ I mean the whole family doesn’t generally live under one roof, and children are generally expected to GTFO of their parents’ homes. This is very different than most collective societies and a pretty stark departure from the way things used to be here.
If Stephen Crane, Eugene O’Neil, Frank Norris, et al. are to be believed, people in the past weren’t just depressed, they were depressed, drunk, violent, etc. etc.
Instead of today’s alienated loners who shoot up grade schools or abduct children off school busses, we had community spirit back in the good old days. Why, we’d all pitch in together and raise a barn or burn a negro; whatever the need called out. That’s what’s missing.
Ennui, perhaps? I have a theory* that the human mind depends on problem-solving to feel fulfilled. Essentially: lacking the absence of barriers to actual survival, we get pretty fucking bored. So the mind creates an internal problem: depression. Now, we have a problem to solve again.
Through the ages, man has solved the big basic problems that kept our minds occupied. Problems such as the need for shelter, the search for food, the procurement of food, the preparation of food, and the protection of our young from four-legged predators. Those problems no longer exist. But our minds are still as sharp and in need of stimulation as they were back then. A lot of people don’t have any problems to solve bigger than figuring out who stole the last fucking pen at work, or when that goddamn burrito is going to be ready for table 4. People make stability their ultimate goal, which is utterly logical. But once you’re stable, it’s easy to fall into a fucking mind-numbing rut. Like cabin fever, except with your life.
Of course, even outside this theory, depression with a real onset would still exist. I think it’s pretty natural to be unhappy for years when you bury a child or get raped or see your beloved spouse get savaged by polar bears after falling into their pit at the zoo. But a lot of people today seem to have a sort of free-floating depression, a general low-to-mid-level malaise with no reason to feel that way. Life for the average American is better in nearly every conceivable way than it was 50 years ago, but as a whole we’re more unhappy with it. There has to be a reason for that.