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More Depression in the Modern World?

  • anonymous Asks ...

    Is the modern lifestyle causing more people to get depressed than in decades of the past? Do you think as many people were depressed 100 years ago as are depressed today?

  • Rev. Christopher Smith Says ...
    Rev. Christopher Smith

    There are many different types of "getting depressed" that will yield different answers as to whether it is more prominent today than in the past.

    The first distinction that should be made is between actual rates of depression and diagnosed rates of depression. It is certainly true that people are more likely to be diagnosed with depression in the present era than was the case a hundred years ago. Some of this is due to changes in society, some of this is due to changes in medical training and some of this is due to changes in ranges of treatment. Today, there are few asylums or asylum-like institutions. This was not the case a hundred years ago. There have been great advances in terms of the different treatments that are available and thus the likelihood of being diagnosed has also increased.

    Similar to the above is a change in the stigma around depression and also around counseling. There is still great variability among different subgroups within our culture - for example the Asian-American community still has a high degree of stigma towards getting any type of mental health care whereas in the some communities of better off Americans there is almost a stigma about not being in therapy.

    While these differences may well contribute to a higher rate of diagnosed clinical depression, this does not indicate anything about changes in the underlying rate of depression. Determining this is much more difficult, for euphemisms and all sorts of other references were used to describe problems in the past and even these may have been covered up in the writing of history.

    Beyond the biologically based depression, there is also experienced sadness related to events surrounding a person. By its nature, this will be very cyclical. For example, when the economic market experienced a downturn, many people will find their life situation to be adversely affected. This in turn can lead to depression. Economic forces, and the stressors they put on people's lives have certainly been a factor in people seeking help presently, but depression linked to their situations was also felt by people in the 1930s. During great crashes in that era, there were people who were so effected that they jumped out of their windows to their death. If you modulate for the current world situation, can you see trends in the rates of depression based on environmental situations? This is hard to judge.

    As you look for peace and wholeness in your world, I would suggest that you should not only be asking whether people are getting more depressed now than in the past, but how we are now dealing with it compared to the past. In this answer, I think you will find hope. Also, even if there is a higher degree of awareness about depression, this means that there is the possibility of getting help sooner and more effectively. These are trends that bring promise for improvement.

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