Depression has become ferociously entrenched in our culture. Schoolchildren talk about anxiety and depression like they do the latest iPhone. They’ve been subject to health classes and special presentations about their mental health since grade 2 or 3 because of growing trends. Suicide is a viable option for many of them, and for all of them, something to throw into a conversation as a casual joke.
And it’s no wonder. Forbes says depression rates have gone up 33% for everyone in the last seven years. Among Millennials it has increased 47%, while among teens ages 12-17 it has grown 63%.
When you pause to think about it, this is actually scary. 1 in 5 people, at least once in their life, will feel completely hopeless and abandoned. For a sustained period of time they will feel smothered by a burning darkness, a darkness that often goes unnoticed by all the others around them.
There are five people in my family. I will gladly take that bullet for them any day of the week.
But the thing is, if this trend of depression saturating our culture, our family, our souls, is allowed to continue, the statistics could be 1 in 4 for my girls and their peers.
And I don’t like that.
I also don’t like that depression is kind of like pancreatic cancer, where professionals are only slightly more able to eradicate it, and the treatment goal is likely management rather than lifetime remission.
As more time goes by with 1 in 5 medicating, therapying, shocking, stimulating, exercising, and barely surviving, we are seeing that all these methods for treatment only work for some people. Sometimes. For example, medication: it only works permanently 25% of the time.
Time has proven we can’t order mental health in a pill bottle.
We as a culture need to wake up to the fact that depression often isn’t a chemical imbalance without cause.
We need to have the guts to see that something in our society’s values and lifestyles must be skewed to produce these sustained high depression rates.
Sure, it could be better education leading to more self-awareness about naming internal problems, coupled with a greater courage to ask for help. Knowing a label, handing out a label, accepting a label.
But the rate at which it’s risen and our inability to medicate to control the spread and duration and reoccurrence of this mental measles leads me to believe there is just something fundamentally wrong about how we expect ourselves to do life.
Further, our brains our plastic. Old dogs can do the tricks they learned when they were young really, really well. So if you are depressed once, you are really good at getting depressed again. And if you become depressed again, you are 80% likely to become depressed yet again. And again. And again.
It seems like depression rates are exposing a flaw in our culture.
Let’s look at what we value.
Busyness. Climbing a ladder. Money. Appearances. Middle-class. Quick fixes. Screens. Flashy success. And short downtimes. Vacations. Self-care.
For the person valuing this presently leads to: lack of sleep, lack of connection with people, lack of self-approval, lack of awareness of your body’s warning signs. Our minds are too stuffed with busy chatter to slow down and listen to the ways our bodies are cautioning us against mental chaos.
And if your parent growing up was striving to provide in the only way society valued – projecting wealth, having long work hours away from family – you probably remember them as: tired, disconnected, numbing themselves, moody, absent, or at the very least, unpredictably present.
So here in this spike of depression we have teens and millennials who are second or third-generation completely, absolutely disconnected from themselves and others.
Depression seems to be, possibly, a generational attachment problem, rather than a brain chemical problem.
Humans need attached connection as much as we need water. We become subject to death without it.
With this attachment to a caregiver, a child learns to identify and process emotions. All their messy bits belong. They are confident help will be given when they ask for it, or even when they don’t. Their emotions, not just their bodies, are taken care of.
But nobody experiences this perfect attachment, especially when their parent was battling and striving themselves while raising a little. Nobody can be perfectly present, or perfectly loving.
Only God can.
It is in this zone of perfect attachment that we experience complete acceptance of ourselves, awareness of our daily emotions, empathy for others, and the resiliency to get through everything without turning into a wreck. This zone is our perfect happy. Wholeness.
On either side of wholeness are rigidity and chaos, hyperarousal and hypoarousal. When we don’t feel that attachment inside we either freak-out control everything, or we shut down. Anxiety or depression.
And this is what we are: a culture too familiar with rigidity and chaos.
A culture too unfamiliar with feeling unconditional acceptance and belonging.
A culture that pushes down pain because it takes too much time away from our busy schedules to address it.
A culture more willing to medicate than actually change the way we live.
A culture lacking emotional intelligence.
A culture disconnected. Unattached. Chronically depressed. And thinking this is normal.
According to Health Status.com, Millennials “have lost connection in conversation and the empowering ability of companionship to reduce stress.”
And when you think about it, our society has only recently forsaken its family-centered lifestyle. Off the farm, everybody separated by work or childcare, a paycheck the biggest indicator of our personal value, globalized.
An advancement in intellect, but decline in traditional units of unquestioned belonging, has bred a new inability to understand emotion and communicate.
But the good news is, our brains are plastic, and depressed old dogs, in theory, should be able to learn something new.
We can unlearn our brains’ depressive habits. And we can unlearn the societal patterns that got us here.
Slow down. Connect. Address your definition of success. Spend time with your people. Go outside. Listen to your body screaming at you. Start addressing the muffled, searing pain your chronic busyness has compounded. And spend the next lifetime committed to the struggle of pursuing wholeness rather than ‘happiness’.
Our brains are designed to heal and be whole on their own when we provide an environment to support them.
How do I know? Because ten sessions of therapy didn’t cure me, and three types of medication couldn’t keep the darkness at bay every day of the week. I searched for a way out by reading the bible and lots of non-fiction. And gave up trying to appear strong.
All my reading on neuroplasticity and mental health and child development and addiction has convinced me that right there – at the intersection of spirituality, community and neuroscience, an intersection called Attachment – there exists a way out.
Because we can’t be content with 1 in 5.
Stay on your medication. Keep going to therapy. But also do the longitudinal hard work. Seek attachment as your brain nestles into wholeness.
Depression doesn’t have to be anybody’s forever. Perhaps.