Depression in America and What You can Do About it.

Image by Tim Pearce.

By Josh Rueff on Sep 28, 2013

Depression is a disease – it’s the disease of the affluent researchers are now saying.

That’s only part of the problem.

I’ve been hunched over my laptop for hours studying every reliable corner of the Internet (ironically, some of them think that technology and time spent on the Internet is a big part  of it, but I’m still feeling alright :), and every credible researcher, scientist, doctor, and therapist says the same thing about depression.

Depression is the highest in France (21%), with the United States coming in a close second (19.2%).

What is it that makes us so depressed? It’s clearly not that we’re poor – most poor nations are happier than the richest nations. (For instance, this article shows how Mexicans are both poorer and happier than wealthy nation peers.)

It’s not that we’re overworked, at least not in France’s case – they have a 35 hour work-week on average. Anything beyond that is illegal unless they’re paid overtime.

Depression in America has baffled the most credible scientists and therapists for a long time. Some of them think it is our strong individualism that causes alienation and loneliness, and others claim that it’s America’s constant flow of consumerist agenda, convincing people that things are what makes us happy. Still others say it’s a spiritual decline; that humanism and our modern form of science has become our religion – a religion that will never produce happiness.

No one claims to have a definitive answer, but every study points to one cause. They all agree on one culprit – one primary reason people experience depression. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

What do you think causes depression? What is it that makes you depressed?

Do you get depressed when you spend less time with people you love? Maybe you get sad when you feel unappreciated, or if you believe you deserve more recognition for what you do.

Many people in America and other similar countries are highly driven to succeed, and when they don’t feel successful, they become depressed.

Here’s the thing. There’s a lot of different reasons people get depressed.

But every one of those reasons can be solved through a single, simple process. This is true because people get depressed for one reason, and one reason only.

Think about it. Many people become depressed when someone close to them dies – this is natural because they experience an imbalance in their life. That person who has been a vital part of their life is no longer there, leaving a void and an imbalance.

Or what about when work too much and spend too little time with the family and friends? Again, the problem is imbalance.

Every form of depression is caused by what Aristotle claimed to be the opposite of happiness: Imbalance. Aristotle taught that happiness was achieving balance, the point of equilibrium between the extremes of deficiency and excess. A person will be unhappy and eventually depressed if they have deficiency and/or excess in his or her life.

The philosopher Rene Descartes agreed and took it a step further.
He agreed with most ancient philosophers in that he believed that philosophy should provide mankind with wisdom that is sufficient for happiness, and his ultimate contribution to us in the realm of happiness was the philosophy of dualism.
Descartes’ dualism is a state of two parts, namely, body and mind.
His advice to princess Elisabeth give us some insight into facts about happiness that have been lost or ignored throughout the ages.

In this letter he shares his unique perspective on happiness:
“From [my mother] I inherited a dry cough and a pale colour which stayed with me until I was more than twenty, so that all the doctors who saw me up to that time gave it as their verdict that I would die young. But I have always had an inclination to look at things from the most favorable angle and to make my principal happiness depend upon myself alone, and I believe that this inclination caused the indisposition, which was almost part of my nature, gradually to disappear completely.”
In the second part of his discourse he outlines the link between rational thought and happiness, which is a part of his belief of the duality of mind and body; that the mind (ideally) holds power over the body, although the body at times influences the mind.
“The difference between the greatest souls and those that are base and common consists principally in the fact that common souls abandon themselves to their passions and are happy or unhappy only according as the things that happen to them are agreeable or unpleasant; the greatest souls, on the other hand, reason in a way that is so strong and cogent that, although they also have passions, and indeed passions which are often more violent than those of ordinary people, their reason nevertheless always remains mistress, and even makes their afflictions serve them and contribute to the perfect happiness they enjoy in this life.”
About happiness he wrote that it is “perfect contentment of mind and inner satisfaction… which is acquired by the wise without fortune’s favor”, noting that “we cannot ever practice any virtue—that is to say, do what our reason tells us we should do—without receiving satisfaction and pleasure from doing so.”

I should mention at this point that Aristotle taught that virtue was the golden mean; the state of perfect balance and happiness.

And there you have it!

Depression is caused by imbalance, and happiness is a byproduct of virtue and balance.

The reason America and many other first world cultures are depressed is because of the imbalance in their lives – it may be too much work, too little time with loved ones, too much social status pressure, or too little relaxation – whatever the “branch issues” are, the root-issue is imbalance.

Once you figure out what your imbalances are and learn to balance them, you can rid yourself of depression on a permanent basis! This is easier said than done, but it can be done. And now that you know the problem and solution, what can stop you?
Josh

10 Comments

  1. greenminimalism August 15, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Nice article, just one gripe: you say “most poor nations are happier than the richest nations”. This is wrong. Western countries are generally much happier than poor countries -Latin America is the exception.

    We have higher depression rates, but they’re created by the fact that we have psychologists and professional assessments, which I doubt an Angolan has access to. Check out the wikipedia articles on happiness.

    Eric

    Reply

    • Josh August 16, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

      I love that about you Eric – Never afraid to speak your mind (: It’s good because it keep me on my toes!

      Here’s what I base that statement off of – the first study was conducted by a BMC Medicine research team:
      “In the 10 countries considered high-income, an average of 15% of participants said they’d experienced a depressive episode in their lifetime. France, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the U.S. all had rates higher than 18%, and “among the eight low- to middle-income countries surveyed, the rate was 11% — the lowest rates were found in India, Mexico, China and South Africa.” – this is from a huffington post article, but they get those numbers from the bio medcentral study.

      From the research abstract: “The average lifetime and 12-month prevalence estimates of DSM-IV MDE were 14.6% and 5.5% in the ten high-income and 11.1% and 5.9% in the eight low- to middle-income countries.”

      I’ll never turn my nose up at Wikipedia, but I do advise to take their information with a grain of salt – one way or the other, it appears that the data regarding depression in this article: Epidemiology of depression has been gathered from very professional groups and psychologists: The World Health Organization, Oxford University, and quite a few well known psychiatrists.

      If you look at the most depressed nations, say, the top 20, you’ll notice that nearly half are wealthy nations. If you look at the least depressed nations, they are primarily poor nations.

      I’m not saying this is a definitive answer (it’s virtually impossible to prove anything), but the combination of the BMC Research and the highly credible individuals and organizations cited in the above article lead me to believe that:
      Most (not all, but most) poor nations are happier (less depressed) than richer nations such as: France, United States, Finland, Israel, Brazil, Netherlands, New Zealand, etc.

      -Josh

      Reply

      • greenminimalism August 17, 2013 at 6:09 am #

        Hi Josh

        It’s because you’re talking about number of depressive episodes whereas I’m talking about happiness. If you read an article like this ( http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/Science-Fiction-News.asp?NewsNum=893 ), you find that high income countries have a much higher satisfaction with life on the whole.

        Depression is a very problematic thing to measure – the idea of ‘depression’ is really well entrenched in American culture, but an African might not even have a word to express the same concept. So asking an Angolan if they have ever had a depressive episode could be difficult. Although Africans may report fewer depressive episodes, they also report a much lower life satisfaction overall, as I linked to in the meta-analysis above.

        I realize that I may be picking a fight on the wrong ground as this essay is about depression, not life happiness. But I think it’s tangentially relevant all the same.

        Eric

        Reply

  2. Josh August 17, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    Eric,

    I think it’s relevant, definitely – depression is close to the opposite of happiness imo. If we went with Aristotle’s point of view (and in this case I do), happiness would probably be located between the extremes of depression and excess euphoria, and if we consider happiness the ideal and depression the least ideal, then they’re basically polar opposites – like you said, tangentially relevant.

    I’d be willing to bet that most if not all languages have a word or multiple words for depression, and if depression is hard to measure, wouldn’t measuring happiness be problematic as well? (which essentially voids both sides of the debate)

    Here’s what I’m a little confused about though – can a nation be both highly depressed and extremely happy?

    According to the map of world happiness that you shared, USA ranks high on the list of happiness. The data was collected from the W.H.O. and some similar organizations. But according to this research, (conducted completely by the W.H.O.) USA ranks #1 on the list of depression rates…

    -Josh

    Reply

    • greenminimalism August 20, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

      Hi Josh

      Depression is essentially a clinical diagnosis. You’re much likely to get diagnosed for depression in the USA than you are in any other country in the world. You’re correct that we shouldn’t place much stock by any of these rather imprecise measures, but I think that the life satisfaction survey is going to give us more useful results for this reason.

      Eric

      Reply

  3. Charles the 1st August 29, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    I think life is getting easier in 3rd world countries and the opposite in the 1st world countries, if you get what I mean.

    The younger generation in the Western world, Japan and S. Korea expect their lives to be as easy as their parents but that just isn’t gonna happen because the world is becoming more equal.

    Resources now have to be shared more than ever and that means escalating cost of living in the developed world.

    Besides, someone from a 3rd world country would appreciate anything you give him/her more than someone from a 1st world country. You pay an immigrant half the salary you pay a local, and he will appreciate it 2 times more because the hardships in his life made him appreciate things better.

    Reply

  4. johnnyboy August 29, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    We suffer more cases of depression because of our diets, all the chemicals and products they add to our food is damaging us… causes cancer rates to go up, part of the new world order; depopulation is key for control so they’re killing us off, and also takeaways (fastfoods) actually increase your depression risk by 51%….back in Africa you won’t see them dying from cancer with rates like ours or eating takeaways?

    Reply

  5. ddt August 29, 2013 at 1:28 pm #

    In the Western world we have the luxury to think. In other places survival takes up 100% of people’s time, so they don’t ask themselves if they are happy or not…

    Reply

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  1. 3 Major Limitations of Science - The Minimalist Blog | Hobbies | Finance | Fitness | Health | Business - August 27, 2013

    […] It was #1 on one of my favorite blogger’s code of living, and I’ve placed a high value on it myself with posts like Aristotle’s Eudaimonia and Minimalism, and Depression in America and What You can Do About it. […]

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