Why is depression becoming more common?
Answered by Andrew Weil M.D.
  • Andrew Weil M.D.

    Andrew Weil M.D.

  1. Andrew Weil M.D. Best-Selling Author, Speaker & Integrative Medicine Thought-Leader


    If you look at the depression epidemic, this cries out for explanation. That's the thing I'm extremely curious about. Where did this come from? It's happening in all Western developed countries, but the U.S. is way ahead in it.

    It's certainly reasonable that some portion of this has been manufactured by the medical pharmaceutical complex, which has convinced people that ordinary states of sadness are brain chemical imbalances that have to be treated. I can't say what that percentage is. But let's say it's substantial, and we get rid of that. We're still left with, I think, a significant rise in unexplained depression.

    And I think some of that has to do with uninformed cultural expectations, which are a most glaringly obvious around the holiday time when we're told from every channel that we're supposed to be happy, this is the happiest time of the year, when obviously it isn't. And that almost never do expectations meet realities there.

    So I think the culture tells us that we're supposed to be happy. And many of us don't feel that. So that's one problem.

    But I think deeper than that, I think today there's a real mismatch between our genes and what we have evolved to be and the circumstances in which we live. Dietary change is one part of that. Increasing sedentariness is one part of that.

    I think another huge one is increasing social isolation. There's, I think, a lot of scientific evidence that social connection protects us from depression, from anxiety. And interestingly, in the hunter/gatherer societies that remain on the planet, depression is unknown. And it's interesting to think about. What's different? Obviously, many things are different there, but one big difference is the extent of social connection.

    And I think a lot of the ways that modern life has changed us-- and in many ways I think these are unintended effects of affluence, that affluence enables us to live in more isolated fashions. An example I used in my book is that I grew up in a row house in Philadelphia before air conditioning. And on hot summer nights the entire block was sitting out in front of the house, and this was a big community.

    When air conditioners came in, it was possible to stay inside in your house. And many other modern conveniences and technological advancements, I think, have further accelerated our ability to live in an insulated fashion. And now I think this is tremendously accelerated by the Internet, by new media. And I think this is a real danger here, that it is increasingly possible to live in your own little cocoon and have virtual connections rather than real connections. And I think that's taken away one of the major emotional supports that people had in the past.

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