CNN recently ran an opinion piece about depression and suicide in America. Apparently, you’re more likely to kill yourself than you are to die in a car crash.
Nice to know that the rigorous safety standards for car design are working…
Sorry. The sarcasm doesn’t turn off for depression and suicide.
So the author’s opinion was that we need integrated services where doctors prescribe antidepressants and are backed up by mental health professionals. The author notes that patients often do not avail themselves of therapy because insurance rules about therapy are complicated and convoluted and often include limits on exactly how often you can see a mental health professional. It would also seem that we’re poised for depression to become the third most prevalent reason for Americans to be on disability.
Let’s think this through.
I’ll start with a nitpick. Since there are a lot more of us, it stands to reason that the number of us with mental balance issues would also go up. That’s issue number one. If 1/100 people have brain chemistry that doesn’t support them being blissed out, and you go from 100 people to 100,000 people, you’re going to have a hundred-fold increase in the incidences of depression. Not that this is a good thing, mind you, just that in dealing with breathless statistics, it’s important to look at the proportions.
But more to the point, let’s talk about how other health issues are addressed. If you have lung cancer, your doctor is going to want to know if you smoke or work in a coal mine before he starts treatment. If you smoke, he’s going to want you to quit. No matter how many tumors the doctor pulls from your lungs, if you go right back into the coal mine, your prognosis ain’t great.
Sickness is your body telling you something is wrong.
I don’t buy that depression is 100% an imbalance in serotonin. Sure, tweaking your brain chemistry can help overcome the worst of the symptoms. Insomniacs often find that a glass of wine helps them sleep at night. Symptom relieved: problem not always solved.
I’m all for treating depression through chemistry and therapy. I’ve been diagnosed with dysthymia, which, according to Wikipedia is a mood disorder and is also known as neurotic depression. I’m on medication.
Here’s the thing. I don’t think I have a mood disorder. I think I’m having a healthy reaction to the fact that we live in a scary, fucked up world.
Now, the scary part isn’t new. Humans evolved to manage danger, or at least when the danger was clear cut. There’s either a lion there or not. You’re either scared appropriately or you’re back to hunting for raspberries or antelope. Now we have these nebulous fears that call up the same adrenal fight or flight response, but are never really there and never really gone. I have a former boss trying to sabotage me. There’s nothing to fling an arrow at or to run from, there’s just this ever-pending decision by a faceless someone who will either clear my name and turn the allegation back on the originator; or to take away the credentials that allow me to work in the arena I’ve called a career for 10 years. That’s fucked up.
Which I observe with as little adrenaline as humanly possible.
Even so, my self-medication didn’t begin with the confirmation that someone is honestly out to get me.
(Digression: why is it the people who are so convinced that someone is out to get them the first people to actively pursue the infliction of harm on someone else? I don’t care enough to try and ruin someone else’s life, therefore I don’t automatically assume that is what someone is trying to do to me. People are weird.)
No, my self-medication began around the time I realized that the 8 hours a day I was spending in the working world were, for the most part, pointless and productless (I was writing a manual for an air traffic control system at this time).
We are not made for factory work, whether that factory produces cars, advertisements, software, standard operating procedures, clothes, or phones. The white collar world is as much of a factory as the place that used to produce the Ford Model T. If you want the justification for that, go read Shop Class as Soulcraft. (Actually, go read it anyway.)
We are built for connections, both to our daily activities and to each other. But who among us is living that way? (Don’t talk to me about a nudist colony or any other commune because I’m not interested.)
Instead, we do work that doesn’t connect with anything meaningful (and most of us don’t find money meaningful, we find survival meaningful. If we could survive without money, don’t you think we’d all be doing stuff that contributed to our happiness? I sure as hell would.) We live in narrow prisons and don’t know our neighbor’s names until they’re in the news for dying inside their little box and seeping through the floor.
We mind our own business so effectively that our neighbors can have three young women imprisoned inside a dilapidated old house, beating the crap out of them and systematically raping them, and no one notices. Hell, you’ve got a kidnapped young woman in LA who was living in the back yard and not once made a connection to help by simply looking over the fence.
The world is fucked up and it’s getting progressively more fucked faster than our brains can evolve. I know, I know. Unfucking the world is going to be harder than it looks, even if prevention is better than the cure. But we certainly aren’t going to slow down the fucking process until we start acknowledging that the world we’ve created is fucked.
And before you go to a conservative christian glorification of the 1950′s as a bastion of family values and glowing mental health, I’m not buying that as an answer. The sickness was incubated in the industrial revolution and accelerated in the post-war prosperity. If a return to the Bible circa 1953 were an answer, don’t you think we’d have done that already? Most of us like integration and equality and the results of the social upheaval of the 60′s and 70′s, and are looking forward to the day when equal rights for the LGBT community are added to our list of civil rights accomplishments.
So… with the easy answers discredited, do you want to know why depression and suicide are at staggering levels?
Medication might make us swim for longer, but that’s like taking the lung cancer out of a patient who is still smoking.
And for my fellow depressive neurotics, let me be the first to assure you that you are having a perfectly healthy allergic reaction to a horrifically toxic environment. Your medication is the equivalent of Claritin or Allegra: it’s just that you’re allergic to BS instead of cats and pollen.