It’s hard to think of a time, or a generation, where people had it so good, materially, but felt so bad, emotionally. Even 200 years’ ago, who had running water in their home, power showers and flushing toilets? Who had electric lights and ovens? Who had a supermarket in the neighborhood that stocked more than possum and potatoes, let alone 15 types of pasta sauce and bottles of Chianti? Answer: nobody.
Materially-speaking, we’ve never had it so good. Even 70 years’ ago, most people didn’t make it past their mid-sixties, but today there are millions of octogenarians walking around, and many of them can expect to live another 20 years, or so.
A few years’ back, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network published their first annual ‘World Happiness Report’, which attempted to define a measure of happiness based on the following factors:
- Real GDP per capita (ie, how much money people had)
- Healthy life expectancy
- Having someone to count on
- Perceived freedom to make life choices
- Freedom from corruption
As you might expect, the list was topped by a bunch of wealthy Western countries – the same countries where rates of depression and prescriptions for anti-depressants are shooting through the roof.
So what’s really going on here?
If life’s never been so good, in so many ways, why are so many people sad and depressed? And why are prescriptions for anti-depressants up 400% from 1988, in the US alone? Clearly, there’s more to the ‘happiness’ picture than is being picked up by the UN report.
One big reason why depression is on the rise is because modern life is physically very unhealthy. Study after study has been done showing that when people don’t get enough sleep, don’t eat the right foods and don’t exercise enough, their bodies and brains doesn’t get the nutrients, minerals and vitamins required to keep things like sadness, depression and anxiety at bay.
But that’s only part of the equation.
A much bigger factor affecting our mood is that these days, so many of us have no idea why we’re alive in the first place. For as long as life is superficially going along smoothly, we can sort of bury our existential angst under careers, and holidays and shopping, but as soon as we hit a bump in the road, all the wheels come off our bus.
If we don’t have an answer to the question of ‘what’s the point of my life’? then when trouble strikes, be it financial problems, serious illnesses or relationship break-ups, it’s all too easy for us to get capsized by our difficulties and troubles, and to find ourselves sinking into despair, apathy and depression.
And that’s not a state of affairs that can continue long-term, which is when we are faced with a difficult choice: do we try to drug the problem away, or do we dig deep, and try to uncover the spiritual roots of the challenges we’re facing?
Western medicine was founded on the idea that body and soul are separate entities, and that human health can ultimately be boiled down to a series of chemical equations. According to this viewpoint, when someone is depressed or sad, it’s simply because they are lacking the right mix or balance of ‘happy-making’ chemicals in their brain.
Supply the missing chemical, and voila! Instant happiness.
It sounds convincing – and the pharmaceutical companies have spent millions of dollars to persuade us that this is the true explanation for why people get depressed, and that Prozac et al is the true solution to the problem. But there’s a few flaws in the argument, not least that despite 40 years’ of research, the infamous ‘chemical imbalance’ theory has never been scientifically-proven.
The following quotes comes from a book called: Blaming the Brain: The Chemical Imbalance Fraud. (There are many other quotes of a similar nature in the book, but this is just to give you an idea of what’s really going on):
“The cornerstone of psychiatry’s disease model today is the theory that a brain‐based, chemical imbalance causes mental illness. However, Dr. Mark Graff, Chair of Public Affairs of the American Psychiatric Association said that this theory was “probably drug industry derived.” His cohort, Dr. Steven Sharfstein, APA president, was forced under media pressure to admit that there is “no clean cut lab test” to determine a chemical imbalance in the brain.”
Jonathan Leo, associate professor of anatomy at Western University of Health Sciences says, “If a psychiatrist says you have a shortage of a chemical, ask for a blood test and watch the psychiatrist’s reaction. The number of people who believe that scientists have proven that depressed people have low serotonin is a glorious testament to the power of marketing.”
More meaning, less depression
So if a lack of serotonin isn’t causing the depression epidemic, then what is? To put it simply, the problem boils down to a lack of real meaning in our lives. If we can’t answer the question: ‘Why am I alive?’ and if we don’t have a spiritual framework that helps us to cope with, and bounce back from our challenges and difficulties, then we’re much more likely to fall into depression.
Of course, there are many other factors involved in conquering depression, including diet, lifestyle and dealing with and overcoming childhood traumas. But on the soul side of the equation, it boils down to a pretty simple choice: more spirituality, or more pills. More talking to God, or more talking to psychiatrists and therapists. More meaning, or more Prozac.
The underlying cause of emotional issues like depression and anxiety is not a chemical imbalance; but a spiritual imbalance and a lack of real meaning in life. Once the people in charge of things like ‘The Happiness Report’ figure that out, then we’ll all come a ginormous step closer to really solving the depression epidemic, once and for all.