Do We Live in an Age of Melancholy?

What’s going on with the world? Suicides among the current generation of young people are 300% up from the previous generation, studies show that those born near the end of the twentieth century are 3 times more likely to suffer from clinical depression than those born a few decades earlier, depression has become the most common serious mental illness diagnosed by psychiatrists, the list goes on.

Is it society, or is it us that’s to blame?

Admittedly, people are more aware of depression as an illness than they’ve ever been before. There’s also less stigma. Could it be that we’re more willing to admit that we’re depressed than ever before? Are earlier generations just better at “keeping a stiff upper lip?” An interesting study appears to contradict this perspective.

An anthropologist who studied the Kaluli tribe who live a traditional, agrarian lifestyle in the wilds of New Guinea, found only one individual in two thousand exhibiting the classic symptoms of clinical depression. That’s particularly interesting when one takes into account the high premature mortality rate within the community and their lack of access to modern conveniences.

The anthropologist concluded that the human mind is well adapted to an agrarian society and simply hasn’t had time to adapt to the incredible changes in society that followed the industrial revolution.

If that’s true, then modern society is certainly to blame. But what could be the matter? Surely we have longer, fuller lives and access to modern conveniences that kings would have considered as wonderful luxuries only a few hundred years ago. What’s the real problem that’s causing this massive upsurge in depression?

What are the experts saying?

On the medical front, the experts aren’t talking about anything we mightn’t have guessed at: increased stress, and lack of old-fashioned community and family support are most often blamed. Some analysts add poor nutrition and lack of exercise or proper sleep to the list of possible causes for the massive increase in depression.

We can’t deny that we’re living faster-paced lives than people dreamed of a generation or two ago. We’re confronted with hurry, heavy workloads, complicated financial commitments and unhealthy food choices on a daily basis. Families are fragmented, spread across countries and continents and divorce is common. Communities have become too large to be personal and these days, most of us don’t even know our neighbors.

Those with a more spiritual bent are saying much the same thing. There’s a lack of closeness, support and peacefulness in our lives that is sure to exhaust the hardiest soul. The number of people who have religious convictions is on the decline, and with it the number of people who can draw comfort from spirituality and faith.

What should we do?

Those of us who have never suffered from depression need to become more aware of the symptoms and implications of depression. We need to know how to recognize depression and we need to understand it. If someone close to us is suffering from depression, our help and understanding can make the difference.

Depression has causes, and these can be embedded in our lifestyles. If we suffer from depression, identifying the potential root causes and eliminating or mitigating them constitutes the only possible long-term cure. Treating the symptoms of depression will simply not be enough. The problem with depression is that it affects our clarity of thought. Consider going for counseling if you suspect that you are suffering from depression.

What lifestyle changes can help to prevent and cure depression?

The answer to this question depends on the individual’s circumstances, but the following strategies may help:

  • Look for ways to simplify your life
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Get enough exercise
  • Spend time having fun with people who are close to you
  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat a healthy diet and don’t skip meals