So an article was linked by a friend that tried to explain the epidemic spread of various depressive and anxiety disorders across the developed world. I’ll leave out the obvious fallacy in that claim, namely the lack of realization that modern prevalence of such conditions is more or less identical to historical levels, but modern definitions are more inclusive and people are more likely to seek help due to the destigmatisation of psychiatry, resulting in an illusion of an epidemic. However, it is true that people today are sad for a few very specific reasons, and I will treat them in this text.
The explanation offered by the article in question was that people tend to be more competitive and therefore engage in a foolish race for status and wealth, and ultimately are torturing themselves with envy and greed. I am not a supporter of banal, moralising explanations of complex phenomena, especially considering that I am essentially in a position where I don’t need to envy anybody anything, and yet I know my share of depression.
I diagnose the true causes of depression in civilized countries thusly:
First, a colossal frustration of libido. There is nowhere to realise oneself, life is too scripted, confined on rails and pre-determined in ways that cannot suit practically anybody. From kindergarten to retirement, we live in a closed-choice world of cages.
Second, a colossal disproportion of ambition and software. Everybody wants to be a billionaire, save the environment, be movie stars, bang Scarlett Johansson and publish an international bestseller, but those same people are programmed to be wimps who hesitate to speak up when brought the wrong pizza. From the tension between those poles, nothing else than depression on a grand scale can result.
The typical advice in self-help is to reduce self-expectations, I will suggest growing balls instead.
Third, an absence of rites of passage, which is a consequence of the collapse of natural gender roles in the family unit, and the family unit as such, resulting in the chronic immaturity of the modern person. People consequently don’t know what to do with themselves, what they are, who they are and where they want to get, and spend most of their lives in the birth pains and personality crisis of adolescence. I define adulthood as successful self-discovery (which, though, is always an open-ended process and never quite finished) in conjunction with an ability to effectively function in the world, which has nothing to do with a pretense of seriousness that is sometimes called “adulthood” also. An adult can be incredibly infantile (and snap in and out of it at will), and that’s completely okay.
Fourth, a reduced “pain threshold”, or an oversensitivity. The reason why Ugandans turn out happier than incomparably wealthier and safer Europeans or Americans is the simple fact that a person who gets chased twice a month by lions and islamist militias tends not to get fazed by banalities that send oversheltered westerners into a psychological tailspin, hence giving them a more adequate and proportionate perspective. The tuning of the fight-or-flight response to a more appropriate level (from a childhood to an adulthood setting) is the precise reason why rites of passage in “primitive cultures” tend so frequently to be life threatening and contain a symbolic death, ritual wounding, the acquisition of a “new soul” etc. It is precisely to adjust the response threshold.
Because people in developed countries practically never experience any real danger, they react to an unexpected letter from the tax office with the vehemency that should naturally be reserved for a charging rhinoceros. Banalities become powerful stressors.
This is one of the reasons why charity helps. One, a person feels better about themselves when helping orphans in Sudan, and two, his or her own problems are thus put into a more adequate perspective.
Fifth, sic, it is an entirely biochemical reaction to a sedentary lifestyle. It is, after all, common knowledge that adequate physical activity twice or thrice a week is wholly sufficient to address the vast majority of mild depressive and anxiety disorders. I shall endeavour to speculate that depression is the organism’s natural response to sitting on one’s bum – in the stone age, people only idled at home when something was wrong with them, and the muting of functioning and lack of motivation to go out at all substantially increased odds of recovery and hence survival. Today, however, a practically constant sedentary idleness is unfortunately mandated by the general lifestyle, and the neurochemistry of our bodies reacts identically still – by a depression. That unfortunately frequently leads to a vicious circle of demotivation mandating idleness, leading to depression, leading to demotivation. Therefore an active utilisation of one’s free time is essential, which however is difficult for a depression-afflicted person to get themselves to do. The vicious circle is to be broken, and a precisely inverse virtuous circle is to be started – of activity leading to greater wellbeing leading to more activity. The excuse that “there is just no energy after work to go exercise somewhere” is entirely idiotic, because office work certainly does not exhaust a person physically – and psychic energy is best replenished by physically demolishing oneself through vigorous exercise. It is the non-differentiation between physical and psychical fatigue that then paradoxically prevents a person from resolving both simultaneously, for thanks to psychological wellbeing, we also relax and recover better physically. All it takes is lifting that ass.