ARE PEOPLE GETTING MORE DEPRESSED?
Dennis B. Kottler, MD
Westlake Village, CA
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A patient said to me the other day, "It seems that just about everyone I know is on some kind of medication for depression."
Are people really getting more depressed? Or are more people getting help now that psychiatric medications are regularly advertised on television?
Effects of Technology
Huge social and technological changes have occurred in the last few decades. Often the result has been greater intrusions on our privacy, increasing social isolation (we talk to machines now, not people), and increasing pressures to perform. (There are of course positive effects as well--see footnote below).
A few examples:
We are besieged by "junk" mail, spam (junk e-mail), and incessant telemarketing.
We are led through mazes of voice mail prompts, often leading to a dead end.
We increasingly conduct our business through e-everything...from internet purchases to online banking, stock trading, bill paying, and finally, job hunting and mate.com.
A patient once said: "It seems the world has been "neutron bombed," eradicating the people and leaving the machines behind."
Family and Workplace
Compounding this isolation and frustration are dramatic changes in the family and the workplace.
Families are fragmented by increasing mobility and increasingly ephemeral marriages. The security of the home and extended family is the stuff of 50's reruns. The family tree is losing its roots and seems to exist only on the internet in the form of genealogical searches and the occasional family reunion.
What about work: "Performance" and "accountability" have replaced camaraderie. Jobs as life-long careers are a thing of the past. Work is losing its role as a social support system.
(Consider the post office, for example. The mailperson of a few decades ago went door to door, talking with residents he would meet. Many of the mail carriers kept their jobs till retirement. Today, the mail is delivered to curbside boxes by jeep. Mail personnel are essentially timed as they do their routes. They are given so many minutes (or is it seconds) per stop. Too much "idle" chatting can result in a negative "performance evaluation." Similar changes are occurring in other occupations.)
We are all bombarded with 24 hour news which almost always seems bad and which for some people has become an addiction. And since "real news" doesn't happen every minute of the day, the same dreadful murders, kidnappings, and natural and man-made disasters, are reported endlessly, magnifying their impact.
The saddest irony in all of this has been the "rising expectations" since the 60's:
1. An enlightened society informed by the latest psychological wisdom....witness the explosion of mental health books.
2. Marriages based on new-found sensitivity and trust...(husbands who listen?)
3. Equality for all races and all sexes (not a slip) and sexual orientations.
4. An end to poverty.
5. Endless gains in the stock market.
6. An end to violent crime...not to mention terrorism.
7. Cures for all maladies, both mental and physical.
8. A "wonder drug" for everything.
9. Everyone can be "beautiful."
10. No more "getting old."
Compared to these "campaign" promises of the last 40 years or so, who would not be disappointed?
Are people getting more depressed?
What do you think? E-mail your comments to: email@example.com.
FOOTNOTE: It is true that technology has given us greater contact through e-mail, better special effects in movies, ability to play almost anything against a computer or an internet opponent, more than a Library of Congress worth of information at our fingertips, and, of course, vicarious sex.
But I wonder if we are gradually replacing the "real" world with the "virtual" world...and maybe losing the ability to tell the two apart.
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