Mel Schwartz, LCSW

Is Our Society Manufacturing Depressed People?

An Epidemic of Depression

Our society is in the throes of a virtual epidemic of depression. The numbers are quite staggering. More than twenty percent of the American population will experience at least one episode of what we refer to as clinical depression. We need to look deeper into this phenomenon to understand it and overcome it. My contention is, firstly, that our cultural values and memes induce us to live in ways that are, indeed, depressing. Secondly, much of what we refer to as clinical depression is inaccurate. Most depression is situational. The symptoms of depression are often due to depressing circumstances, not disease. In other words, under certain circumstances, it makes sense to be depressed.

Have We Lost Our Way?

Many of us live dulled lives, somewhat robotic in nature and devoid of deeper meaning and purpose. Our lives, often become visionless and passionless. We live in an intensely competitive culture that rewards achievement and success. Our identity and esteem become reflections of these external markers of achievement. Our pursuit of happiness and well-being become terribly misdirected. The demands of our intensely and neurotically driven culture strain our emotional and psychological balance well beyond its comfortable balance. The cultural paradigm in which we live leaves us disconnected, disenchanted and isolated. When this occurs, we tend to honor and seek material acquisitions at the cost of devoting ourselves to intimate and loving relationships – with others and ourselves.

People that thrive in loving relationships don’t typically feel depressed. Depression is symptomatic of feeling isolated and cut off. In our drive to live the good life, we typically isolate ourselves from relationships that might nourish us. Intimate and loving relations have become somewhat marginalized and have lost value in our very hurried lives. Our frenetic pace of life sees one day blur into another, until life begins to lose its meaning. We don’t have time to nurture our loved ones or ourselves, and we lose our vision of a well-spent life. In fact, the problem is that we don’t know how to live well.

Are People Dysfunctional?

Our therapeutic community attaches labels such as dysfunctional to people and families. People are not dysfunctional; social systems are. People suffer and experience pain. We are human beings, not machines that dysfunction. Such terminology expresses contempt for the human spirit. A society that produces such staggering rates of depression is dysfunctional. Our culture has created this epidemic.

Part of the problem is that we become corralled into a consensus of belief that does not serve our higher purpose. The desire to fit in and conform induces us to lose our inner voice. We are products of a cultural belief system that ignores or devalues matters of the heart and then turns and points its accusatory finger at those who suffer. When we do so, we victimize the victim. If we began to look at the depression as symptomatic of living depressing lives, we’d begin to understand that the cure lies in addressing what our souls are longing for. When we suppress the voice of our soul, depression arises. Depression surfaces for a reason. The symptoms of depression are crying out for our attention. The epidemic of depression is simply indicative of lives lived errantly, without joy or purpose.

People who feel passion for their work and friends and love their families and partners don’t become depressed as often as the population at large. People who are in touch with their spirit and enjoy a sense of community don’t incline toward depression. People who maintain a sense of wonder and awe don’t become depressed. Depression isn’t the enemy. It’s simply a warning sign that we’re not on the right path. Our disconnection and folly pursuits of happiness may have much to do with this.

Before the advent of modern psychotherapy, and well before the pathologizing of the word “depression,” we would refer to such symptoms as melancholia. Life would bring certain periods and events in which one might feel some melancholy. Sadness is appropriate at times. When people experienced such sadness, friends and family may have supported them through the difficult times. But they weren’t told that there was something wrong with them. Loving support is the most powerful agent in the treatment of depression. When we lose our compassion and relegate depressed people to their diagnosis, we tend to dehumanize them.

Is Our Society Manufacturing Depressed People?

A dominant theme in our society is that you should be happy, and if you’re not, there’s something wrong with you. Life can be difficult at times. It is in the labeling of people as depressed that the greatest injustice is done. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t people who are indeed clinically depressed, but simply that the indiscriminate manner in which diagnoses are meted out to people without proper discrimination is grossly absurd.  When clinical diagnosis of depression is made in the astronomical numbers we witness in American culture, it speaks to something much larger: A society that has lost its way.

If we see depression as a signal that something is off, we might use the depression to catalyze positive change. Very often depression makes perfect sense. In my practice, I often treat individuals who are being abused, living in loveless relationships or suffering from loss. Depression in such instances seems quite appropriate. Rather than treat the depression, I prefer to assist these people in coming to terms with their life challenges.  It is essential to treat the person, not the depression. We must come to understand how the depressed person struggles contextually in their lives and to appreciate their particular struggles and challenges. We must, at all costs, refrain from reducing them to a clinical compilation of symptoms.

Situational Depression

In some instances, depression is situational. Loss of a loved one, illness or job loss creates circumstances that are painful. Working through the loss is more healing than medicating the pain. It is essential to address the underlying causes and not simply suppress the symptoms. The difficulty is that in our quick fix mentality, we believe that if we can suppress the symptoms then all is well. When we come to see depression not as the enemy but as an expression of struggle, the epidemic will likely subside as we come to honor the integrity of our human spirit. We do not ordinarily grow without engaging struggle. So the irony is that by medicating our symptoms with psychotropic medication, we ensure continued stagnation, for the struggle is never resolved toward a breakthrough; it is merely placated.

Gary Greenberg, in Manufacturing Depression, suggests that depression as a clinical disease may indeed be manufactured. He references best selling psychiatrist Peter Kramer’s assertion in Against Depression that “depression magically skyrocketed after the drug industry introduced SSRIs and that diagnostic criteria can’t distinguish between depression and grief.”

My thesis is, therefore, twofold: Much of what we call depression is a typical life struggle around loss, fear and grave situational issues that have become clinicalized for profit. Yet, there also lies a deeper despair that accompanies living an incoherent life, as a stranger in a strange land. What I am strongly asserting is that depression, and anxiety for that matter, are the most likely outcomes of living in and with the unmerciful and misguided constraints of a tired and destructive worldview. Our constructed reality is for many people depressive and anxiety inducing. Feeling as such ironically suggests that many depressed people are merely mirroring the affects of a somewhat incongruous, if not insane way of living, fostered by the society itself. In effect, the way that we are living is producing tragic results.

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KK

Mel, another thought provoking article, interesting to hear your research on this topic.

I attribute much of societies modern ills on cognitive dissonance.
We are perpetually forced into conflicting conditions that challenge accepted views, and allow the contrary to be evident.
We are perpetually manipulated, mostly by marketing of products or even by marketing of our politicians to some extent.
This manipulation is well understood, and utilised very effectively, however I think it does cause these sort of depressions to arrive.

We are kept in a constant state of questioning, even things such as politically correct terminology make it almost a crime (and in some cases an actual one) to merely say the wrong word even though the word may describe exactly a circumstance or situation or experience. Another example – the global warming paradox. My purpose is not to start a discussion on that topic but merely to say that it is virtually impossible for anyone in the general public to have a truly educated and knowledgeable opinion on this, because there is so much conflict of fact. If you think – pollution is bad therefore we should minimise all pollution, but we need energy to power all these things we are so attached to therefore power is not all that bad and global warming is something unavoidable but now we must stop it yet we don’t stop all this manufacturing and driving etc etc. I hope you can see my point there…

Furthermore, its not just this dissonance, as you suggested poisoned world view plays a role. It’s also the disconnect we have from being kept in left brain constantly – we lack the synapse to find harmonious sollutions – the alchemical wedding of thought/emotion/action is divorced from us – largely I believe due to marketing and television forcing us into dominant brain situations. (ie left or right dominance) This causes actual – visible – brain dysfunction, visible on an MRI scan. The less dominant half of the brain will actually appear with virtually no activity in extremely affected individuals.

mwsmedia

Great thoughts KK.How have you come to your particular way of seeing reality operating?

KK

Hard question to answer Mel.
I like to think that I take eclectic sources, get as much information as I can and compile it to form my own ideology.

I have done a lot of “research” (my own) into mystery traditions, and “occulted” knowledge.
Mainly because I believe that there is now a great disconnect with ancient knowledge, and also this is just visible with how we treat our “elders” in society. It used to be we venerated them, put them in positions as chieftans, and village elders/wise men(and women) shamans etc.
Now, we tuck them away in old folks homes and listen to none of their wisdom.
I also did a lot of sociology at uni – and presented a paper on how the media controls sport in the field of funding for womens sports.
Most womens sports (at least at the time of doing my paper) required the women to do things such as sporting calendar shoots, or change their uniforms to be more “sexy”. The same does not apply to men getting sport funding, why is this? I put it to you media control this, perhaps inadvertently, but regardless of their intent they do control it. We are now in an almost epidemic of young females with horribly skewed body images – did we have this problem before our modern media age? History would suggest not.

Mel, I have –always- questioned these things, ever since I was a child I can remember driving my parents to annoyance because I would never accept responses such as “because I said so”. The media and government rely on us accepting authority as the truth, rather than truth as the authority. Government (from the latin gubernare (meaning to control) and mente (meaning mind)…)think about that one deeply…

Another issue which is associated with world view poisoning. Our language does in fact control us to some degree, and you could play this word association game with people on the street (in fact this has already been done as research).

I show someone the word “occult” and ask for their perception on it.
I guarantee 99% of people will say words like “evil” or many other similar associations, but the word occult simply means “hidden”.
Think Occipital Lobe (to do with vision). Think Occulus, to do with vision. The latin word Occultare meaning to conceal or hide.
But most people don’t realise this because (mainly attributed to media) occult ties to all the horror movies of the ages.
Another fun one to do the game with is the word Anarchy, which simply means the abscence of an external ruler.
This skewing of language is largely associated with media, and largely controls our perceptions – it is in fact a mild form of mind control, through controlling how the mind associates a skewed meaning to a word.

An artist whom often sings about “political” topics once said “What you watch, what you read, what you perceive is to be truth. The Media have vested interests, so what you believe is up to you” (John Butler – from a song called “Media”)

But this statement holds true. The media and others who would make an income from manipulation of truth know and understand how these mixed messages work in their favour, in fact they revel in it, and are awarded for finding new imaginative ways of associating their product with something else (comedy seeming to be the most popular currently). Politicians use this well, most of them will pose next to a successful sporting team, or perhaps entrepreneur so that you associate the success of the team to the politician also being successful. They rely on our naivety, and use it to manipulate.

KK

I meant to also mention about the “Alchemical Wedding” of which I spoke earlier in that response but got sidetracked attempting to explain things.

This is referred to as (in many religions) the trinity.
The Trine. The Celts symbolised it with a Triskelion. The egyptians with a pyramid, the christians with a “father/son/holy spirit” on and on and on in every religion this trinity exists. Also the archetype of the “divine child” is important.

Let me simplify this. Using the christian example, although only because it will be familiar to most people.
Thought – The father (left brain) (solar)
Emotion – The Holy spirit (right brain) (lunar)
Action – The son (divine child)
The divine child, born from the father and holy spirit – (without intercourse)

These three acting in unison are the divine human spirit (without attributing “divinity” to any theistic ideal)

What do we say if someone acts without thinking, or without emotion? Acting without emotion would almost be a psychopathic trait, acting without thinking is an impulse, neither of them are seen as favorable ways of acting in society, and yet we are manipulated constantly to favor one or the other. I saw recently a stastic regarding how many people display psychopathic and or sociopathic traits in society, why is this number so high now?

mwsmedia

KK,
I engage similarly around words and have done the same experiment around the word anarchy. I have been very influenced by the physicist David Bohm’s work with shared meaning and dialogue. I find that true dialogue –flow of meaning –becomes disrupted for lack of shared meaning and I work as a therapist and communicator to take the time to allow for shared meaning.

Do you do any work in this area professionally?

KK

Mel, I do not work in this field at all no, this is something that prior studies led me towards and I think also to some degree, my own personal disposition. I have not read Bohm’s work, but now have one more to add to the list.

I read in anothe rof your comments, something regarding potentiality, and as I can see you have a good grasp on physics I would like to also draw this parallel for you. Potential (energy) can only be transformed or activated once it becomes Kinetic (energy) (of relating to – or produced by-motion)

For potential to be realised it must become kinetic, ie potential can never be realised without action. This relates to my earlier comments regarding trinity. Also notice the word Kinetic has the prefix Ki.

I would also love to point you to a form of meditation known as Vipassana. This form is non-secular, but more importantly is supposed to aid in rebuilding/renewing synapse between left and right brain. I suggest reading about it first however, as it is not for everyone, at least not without preparation.

All the best Mel, great article.

mwsmedia

KK. IN quantum physics the pure state of potentiality is known as superposition. This is embedded in wave collapse theory. The wave represents the potentiality. When the wave is observed, it collapses and along with it the potential. I borrow from that theory metaphorically and suggest that in the moment before our next thought, we are in superposition. The difficulty is in not collapsing the same thoughts and thereby thwarting our potentiality. I’ve developed a process toward that end called, Emergent Thinking. http://blog.melschwartz.com/2011/09/28/collapsing-the-wave-creating-new-realities/#more-5687
http://blog.melschwartz.com/2008/05/12/what-is-emergent-thinking/
I’ll be sure to look into Vipassana

Dee

KK, I could not agree more!

Loren

Great article, and I so agree with you… I have been working with my clients to see their situations from this perspective for a long time, and now I will send them to this article and your site to give them some validation for their experiences. People who feel depressed (or label themselves as depressed) do feel that they are the problem, and somehow, some way need to be “fixed”…
In families, someone becomes the “identified patient” who needs to be fixed, changed, stopped in some way, etc… When the family can view the “sick person” as the one who has the courage to show feelings in a way that cannot be denied, then the family can work together as a loving unit rather than focusing energy on the “problem”… Life is about learning, growing and evolving, and this does not happen if we treat everything all the time simply by “medicating” the uncomfortable feelings away…
Thank you for this post, and the work you do…

mwsmedia

Delighted to hear it Loren..

Barbara-Anne

Hi Mel,

For me, I need SSRI’s plus cognitive therapy because I have an imbalance that causes me to have low moods. Without the medication I had a lot of troubles before.

Barbara-Anne

mwsmedia

Barbara-Anne, might the imbalance be due to the repetition of negative thought and feeling? The replication of anxious or negative thinking distorts the bio-chemistry of the brain, not the other way around as we would have been instructed.

Dianne Juhl

A thought-provoking article, Mel!

I think perhaps individual psyches are internalizing and embodying the collective psyche. If our society is manufacturing depression, I would call this story, “A Conflicted World and Its DisContents”.

For example, I’m observing that around the world people are living with anxiety, worry, disatisfaction, personal and structural instability evoked by economic earthquakes, recessions, depressions. If I focus only on what’s happening on American society, I’m observing little happiness, a lot of suffering and, of course, meaning-making.

Intense economic anxiety is shaking working families’ belief in the American dream of upward economic mobility. Ordinary working Americans are filled with distress, dread and even fear about their economic futures and ability to “get ahead”.

The reality is that in the last decade alone, millions of Americans lost health insurance coverage, lost pensions or 401K savings accounts, became deeply mired in debt attempting to bridge gaps between income and living costs, and many can no longer afford to help their children with the cost of college. The median annual household income for working-age Americans actually fell about $2500 dollars.

Incomes of men in their 30s, prime wage-earning and family-raising age, have remained relatively flat over the past four decades. If family incomes improved during this time, it was largely because of the wholesale entrance of women into the workforce (and I mean this literally and figuratively) and their recession-produced positions of “breadwinner”. See May 25, 2012 Time magazine cover story – which speaks to a shift in gender roles – http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20120326,00.html.

Simultaneously, the promise of the “American Dream” has captured and colonizes the imagination of the developed world and developing nations alike. Urges to compare ourselves to other seekers of the “American Dream” occupies us. The envied and the enviers are bound in a terrific double bind.

The “American Dream” doesn’t protect us from anxiety. Anxiety lurks persistently in our money complexes and insistently in the wounded spaces of our human relationships: between siblings, between genders, between nations; inwardly, between different parts of our personal and collective psyche. We personally and collectively suffer these feelings residing at the core of all class wounds at any place on the economic continuum from rich to poor. The pain residing at the essence of living the American dream is palpable.

However, people are treating the anxiety symptoms, not befriending anxiety. Treating the depression by trying to get rid of it, run away from it.

Problem-solving in a reactive (flight, fight, freeze) mode generates the despair you speak of in your article. Our individual and collective core delusion and false hopes are being revealed to us.

Befriend depression means harnessing the internal tensions, conflicts, complexes from a place of empowerment. Allow the depression symptoms to point the way. Re-vision. Get clear about what you want from a values-based position so you can live into & thru the unknown w/o losing your way. Accept transitions – which can feel like hell on earth — as a rite of passage for your psyche; an invitation to explore new psychic geography. There’s no need to literalize the depression when you can embody the initiation & transformation.

“Re-vision – the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction… is an act of survival. Until we understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. This drive to self-knowledge… is more than a search for identity: it’s our refusal of the self-destructiveness of society… as we find language and images for a consciousness we are just coming into…” ~ Adrienne Rich

Abundant regards,

~ Dianne Juhl & The Feminine Face of Money

Dianne Juhl

A thought-provoking article, Mel!

I think perhaps individual psyches are internalizing and embodying the collective psyche. If our society is manufacturing depression, I would call this story, “A Conflicted World and Its Discontents”.

For example, I’m observing that around the world people are living with anxiety, worry, dissatisfaction, personal and structural instability evoked by economic earthquakes, recessions, depressions. If I focus only on what’s happening on American society, I’m observing little happiness, a lot of suffering and, of course, meaning-making about our personal and collective relationship with money, finance, and economics.

Intense economic anxiety is shaking working families’ belief in the American dream of upward economic mobility. Ordinary working Americans are filled with distress, dread and even fear about their economic futures and ability to “get ahead”.

The reality is that in the last decade alone, millions of Americans lost health insurance coverage, lost pensions or 401K savings accounts, became deeply mired in debt attempting to bridge gaps between income and living costs, and many can no longer afford to help their children with the cost of college. The median annual household income for working-age Americans actually fell about $2500 dollars.

Incomes of men in their 30s, prime wage-earning and family-raising age, have remained relatively flat over the past four decades. If family incomes improved during this time, it was largely because of the wholesale entrance of women into the workforce (and I mean this literally and figuratively) and their recession-produced positions of “breadwinner”. See May 25, 2012 Time magazine cover story – which speaks to a shift in gender roles – http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20120326,00.html.

Simultaneously, the promise of the “American Dream” has captured and colonizes the imagination of the developed world and developing nations alike. Urges to compare ourselves to other seekers of the “American Dream” occupies us. The envied and the enviers are bound in a terrific double bind.

The “American Dream” doesn’t protect us from anxiety. Anxiety lurks persistently in our money complexes and insistently in the wounded spaces of our human relationships: between siblings, between genders, between nations; inwardly, between different parts of our personal and collective psyche. We personally and collectively suffer these feelings residing at the core of all class wounds at any place on the economic continuum from rich to poor. The pain residing at the essence of living the American dream is palpable.

However, people are treating the anxiety symptoms, not befriending anxiety. Treating the depression by trying to get rid of it, run away from it.

Problem-solving in a reactive (flight, fight, freeze) mode generates the despair you speak of in your article. Our individual and collective core delusion and false hopes are being revealed to us.

Befriending depression means harnessing the internal tensions, conflicts, complexes from a place of empowerment. Allow the depression symptoms to point the way. Re-vision. Get clear about what you want from a values-based position so you can live into & thru the unknown w/o losing your way. Accept transitions – which can feel like hell on earth — as a rite of passage for your psyche; an invitation to explore new psychic geography. There’s no need to literalize the depression when you can embody the initiation & transformation.

“Re-vision – the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction… is an act of survival. Until we understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. This drive to self-knowledge… is more than a search for identity: it’s our refusal of the self-destructiveness of society… as we find language and images for a consciousness we are just coming into…” ~ Adrienne Rich

Abundant regards,

~ Dianne Juhl & The Feminine Face of Money

mwsmedia

Hi Diane and thanks so much for sharing your powerful insights. I am a believe in Jung’s Unus Mundus –one world. My reading of quantum physics reveals that the universe is essentially as one, interpenetrating and inseparable. So my current belief is that individual mind impacts collective mind and the converse is of course true. As to the relationship between anxiety and depression, I find that if one succumbs to anxiety, remains bound by its confines then life typically becomes depressing. If one, however, embraces the discomfort of moving beyond the constraints of anxiety, depression is far less likely. The inertia has resolved and flow is engaged. Putting it differently depression is absence of flow. Every thought, feeling and experience see us mired in sameness. Flow presents opportunity and potentiality.

Dianne Juhl

Hi Mel,

Did you see this Gallup Wellbeing study regarding American moms and depression. It gave me pause. Actually it arrested my attention.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/1545692/Stay-Home-Moms-Report-Depression-Sadness-Anger.aspx

What do you think about the phenomenon, results, and conclusions re: the reported sadness, anger, psychological struggles, and depression in this population? Is this an aspect of manufactured depression? Does this further stigmatize and, thus, pathologize work-at-home moms and all mothers by association? Is this situational depression? Does this express how “lostness” is embodied by mothers?

I have so many questions! So I’m passing along this article to hear what you, Mel, and other folks have to say. The wisdom of this article and your practice and the collective wisdom of the commenters leads me to think there’s a wealth of perspectives here. Looking forward to hearing from you.

As for what I think… in my professional perspective (and personal) opinion, I believe it benefits our society’s well-being to ensure that all mothers, and work-at-home moms in particular, are in good emotional shape. Women’s wellbeing helps children and families.

I also think an abiding and sustainable sense of confidence, satisfaction, happiness, and joy is critical to mother’s well-being. It affects her work-at home and work-outside the home career decisions, her financial wellbeing, her physical health, having love in her life at home, and being engaged with her community.

Abundant regards,

~ Dianne Juhl & The Feminine Face of Money

mwsmedia

Dianne, I agree most wholeheartedly with your thought that there are a “wealth of perspectives” in this regard. Of course, situationally speaking a stay at home mom is inclined to be more isolated — particularly when they are low income. The upper income stay at home mom has options, babysitters, nannies, which permit her to get out of the house and have some diverse experience. So in a way, I’m hardly surprised by the results of the survey. That said, other factors to be considered are, what is the state of their marriage? Are they happily married? In most cases, regrettably, marriage falls into mediocrity. How does that effect the self-evaluation. Are they looking forward to their husband’s arrival at night, or dreading it?

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