Figures from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that 6.7 percent of American people over 18 experienced at least one episode of depression in 2015.1 This is consistent with other developed countries, and it is in stark contrast to figures from less well-developed countries.2 This disparity would seem to indicate that something about our modern lives is responsible for the increasing incidence of depression.
Depression and Achievement
Depression often causes lethargy and an inability to maintain motivation. This may be why some people associate depression with low achievement or idleness. But depression is actually a prevalent illness in high achievers. The 2014 American Freshman survey revealed that 4.7 percent of college freshmen indicated they suffered from depression or other psychological disorder.3
Contrary to popular belief, low achievers tend to be less depressed than high achievers. This may be because low achievers have lower expectations of what they will get from life and are content with less. High achievers, on the other hand, often set hard-to-reach goals and constantly compare their situation with other high achievers. Chasing the impossible dream may lead them to lose self-confidence and judge themselves as failures.
Is Depression an Illness?
When people suffer from physical illnesses, the cause can often be attributed to physical factors such as bacteria, viruses, physical breakdown of tissue or an injury. It is not so simple to identify the culprit when someone experiences a mental illness, although symptoms can sometimes be caused by physical factors.
People who are depressed often feel very isolated, even if that isolation is self-imposed. A firm link exists between depression and lack of social integration. Modern society makes it harder for people to form healthy social bonds. People tend to live some distance from where they work, so they have decreased opportunities for social interactions with their work colleagues. Families are increasingly scattered, and time together may be infrequent.
Furthermore, because they spend so much time away from home, they may struggle to build strong social networks where they live. The challenge to get ahead by working long hours reduces the amount of time available to engage in healthy activities with family and friends, increasing the sense of loneliness and isolation.
Depression as a Condition of Isolation
When people become depressed, their world begins to shrink. They may perceive others as not wanting to interact with them. Many treatment experts focus on helping people who are depressed to rebuild important social networks. Experts also believe that healthy interaction with others helps to decrease depressive symptoms.
Employers sometimes proactively foster the development of strong social ties among their employees by encouraging staff to get involved in community activities like volunteering for worthy causes. Some companies, such as Checkpoint, reimburse their staff for the time spent engaging with this type of activity, knowing it will help each employee’s mental health while simultaneously benefiting the community.
The modern way of life, where person-to-person communication is at an all-time low, contributes to depression and other illnesses related to social isolation. Hopefully, the future will be less bleak as we relearn the social skills of older generations.