VICTIMS OF THE MODERN AGE

Are you happy?

If you're an American, the odds of answering that question in the affirmative are decreasing with time. If you're a Gin and Tacos fan, it's close to nil. But I kid.

There has been no shortage of hand-wringing since the early 1990s when the diagnosis of depressive disorders – and subsequently the prescription of antidepressant drugs – exploded. The growth of medically diagnosed unhappiness is quantifiable, to say nothing of even more depressed people who avoid diagnosis or treatment.

Not only are rates of depression high among the general public, but in certain populations (the elderly, young adults, etc) it is nearly epidemic. This might say more about the company I keep than anything else, but sometimes I wonder if I know anyone who isn't on antidepressants or hasn't been on them at some point. The prescription for Cymbalta or Lexapro seems to be as popular among twenty- and thirty-somethings as PBR and Breaking Bad.

Doctors recognize a range of causes, from biological to social to psychological. There is no single reason people get depressed, but many. Some of the risk factors are things that are becoming less common; others are on the rise. One that I've been thinking a lot about lately is, as the DSM states, "feelings of helplessness and pessimism." It is not hard to imagine why a sense of helplessness could lead to general depression.

In the last thirty years, Americans have dramatically increased the number of reasons to feel helpless. Especially in terms of economics, how many of us really control our own fate these days? Young adults leave college (with loads of debt) to enter a job market and economy that, through no fault of their own, might leave them unemployed. Older working people have seen the protections that Americans once took for granted – labor unions, non-toothless enforcement of labor laws, general job security – radically scaled back as well. Employers, and the political-economic class as a whole, relish in emphasizing the lack of job security that defines the modern economy. No long term contracts, no pensions, no job security beyond day-to-day – we're nearing a full return to the At-Will Utopia that the Robber Barons of the 19th Century once enjoyed. The only right you have is the Right to Work. No matter how hard or well you work, your job may one day disappear to Mexico or India or some other low wage nirvana.

In my field, I often hear the Old Timers tell tales of job hunting in the 1970s when interviewing was more about the school convincing the applicant to work there rather than vice-versa. Even the most ordinary candidates could expect multiple job offers. Today, even the most excellent candidates often find themselves without one. This is no different than most other professions – I'd bet that whatever line of work you do, the number of applicants vastly outnumbers the available jobs these days. Combined with the constant threat of offshoring in the post-NAFTA world and the average American finds him- or herself feeling professionally powerless. Helpless, even. We find ourselves at the mercy of forces beyond our control. We have little power and little choice over where we live, what working conditions we will accept, and what wages/benefits we receive.

That is, of course, exactly the way They want it. Some people benefit tremendously from this state of affairs. Most of us do not.

When we see news stories and commentaries about tens of millions of prescriptions for antidepressant being written annually in this country – other industrialized nations are catching up, too – economic and political conditions rarely enter into the discussion. But is anything more depressing than being unhappy with your situation and powerless to change it? We've successfully transitioned to a nation in which "If you don't like it, there's the door…and good luck finding anyone else who's hiring" is the zeitgeist and elected officials (from whom we are completely alienated by a system that auctions them to the highest bidder) make decisions that degrade your working conditions, job security, and chances of finding employment at all. Whatever skills or profession we have, our sense of control and agency have eroded. Can anyone be surprised that so many Americans feel hopeless and turn to drugs – from a doctor or otherwise – to cope with the growing sense that we have no control over our own economic fate?

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62 Responses to “VICTIMS OF THE MODERN AGE”

  1. c u n d gulag Says:

    I could write another one of my long and depressing word-turds about this – but I'll spare everyone.

    Instead, I'll take a more positive approach!

    As we pee and poop, all of those anti-depressants get in the water, and the ever dwindling number of fish, on their way to virtual extinction either due to over-fishing or pollution, are a lot happier!

    So now, when the dolphins are leaving the Planet Earth, they can say, 'So long, and thanks for all the happier fish!'

    We humans, are still doomed.

  2. lfv Says:

    Previous generations didn't take anti depressants because there weren't any.

  3. E* Says:

    I would be curious to know what depression trends are like in cultures (or sub-cultures) that don't emphasize personal control over one's life. In mainstream U.S. culture, we are supposed to be in total control of our own fates, so when the poo hits the fan, it's our own fault (should have worked harder, should have exercised more, should have eaten less bacon). What is tough about this mindset is that while we can certainly influence how our lives (and deaths) turn out, and while we work very hard to maintain a facade of control, we really have very little actual control. Does the difference between the desire and the reality lead to more depressive states?

    PS. Kudos to G&T readers for appropriate references to the Guide on two consecutive days!

  4. Anubis Bard Says:

    I think we’re coming out of a relatively brief moment in history where people expected to concentrate all of their “work” into a single wage-per-hour job. Our role in the economy narrowed to wage-earner slash consumer. Normal human endeavors like music, cooking, storytelling, childcare, healing and a thousand other things got diverted from us as we stopped doing these things ourselves, but instead went to work and then paid others to do it – or if we were lucky enough we persevered in them as an extra – a hobby or leisure activity (indulged in and separate from “work”).

    I think the powerlessness we often feel goes far beyond our role as labor-market pawns – and I think depression is a natural reaction to participating in this stripped-down version of human living we’re presented with.

    But a glass-half-full way to read the devastating decline in full-time employment is to see a possible return to a more human arrangement – one in which work accounts for more that just getting the short end of the stick at one's job.

  5. Xynzee Says:

    The other illusion that we've bought into is that "we're supposed to be happy 100% of the time."

    Well what exactly is this "happiness" supposed to look like? Usually we equate "happiness" with visceral, temporal, hedonistic pleasure. Thus the constant chasing after the latest bauble, restaurant experience, XTreme sport rush… We've moved well and truly beyond a materialistic age. With materialism, it was about the quality of workmanship and materials used.
    With the current age of consumerism comes the need for everything to be cheap and expendable. So is it any wonder why we treat people and relationships the same?

    That said. From my own experience, having the magic money fairy come and sprinkle the magic money dust into my account on a steady basis certainly helps with my outlook on life. Especially, when the money dust is greater than the vacuum of living is.

    I also found I was happier when I started getting in control of an area of my life. Even if it was just "moving the chair 1inch".

  6. acer Says:

    @Xynzee:

    Most people don't really think they're supposed to be happy all the time.

    The more insidious, more all-American lie is that, if you're not happy, it's up to you to change your circumstances, which you can do by bucking up and getting your hands dirty, knowing that society has your back. That's completely untrue now for most of us, if it ever was.

    We're a nation that cheers on elite rich kids as they pull up the ladders. There's a big difference between accepting that Boomer luxury was a historical accident and accepting permanent Reaganism without a whimper, but we're happy to do both.

    @lfv:

    The earliest antidepressant was alcohol, self-prescribed. It's not nearly as fashionable now.

  7. virginia penley Says:

    Situational depression is different from clinical depression, which does provide a benefit from drugs for the patient. Doctors will proscribe drugs for both, with the theory that depression does not care. I do. Anti-depressants make me sick as a dog.

    Anti-depressants are strong mind altering drugs, and not in a good way, either. If your depression is situational, address the situation, don't take the anti-depressant. If you are broke, you can be happy without money, happier than you will be on those pills.

    If you cannot alter your situation, alter your expectations instead, and work to improve the situation.

  8. Jestbill Says:

    1. Single payer health insurance.
    2. Minimum National Income.
    3. (Substantially) free education for all ages.
    4. Actual regulation…………………………ah……it's too depressing to continue…..

  9. acer Says:

    @virginia penley:

    What if the situation is that your options are controlled by plutocrats who pollute your air, buy your elected officials, and don't mind watching your family starve to death on Christmas if they can squeeze one more dime out of it?

    What are you supposed to then, start a t-shirt company?

    It's not as binary as you suggest. Long-term stress affects brain chemistry. And a lot of us have been under a lot of stress for a very, very long time.

  10. anotherbozo Says:

    Anubis and Xynzee both made points that I was going to make. I feel (damn, how American is it to begin a sentence "I feel?") sorry for the citizens too young to have experienced any of our famous American pop-psych movements, because even though I poke fun at them sometimes, and even though it may have been tacky to have a snappily-dressed guru (mine wore the moniker Werner Erhard) interact with 200 people over two weekends, it worked for many people to reorganize their heads. As have yoga, transcendental meditation, Transformations© and any number of other disciplines designed partially as correctives to a Horatio Alger and me-generation mythologies that oiled the machine and even today persist against all odds. The most dependency-inducing drugs don't really come from Walgreen but from a culture that seeks to define us and in what socially-approved venues we are supposed to find self–worth. When employment was chugging along we could ignore the lies fed us; now that we're being screwed, it's as important to question the belief system we've been sold as it is to know objectively who's doing the screwing. The latter will make you nuts, is solely intellectual information anyway. The former is much more crucial, to find out where, in this loopy world, you can find something worthwhile. But I'm all for pragmatism, not apriori beliefs. If it feels good, resonates with you, I mean You, it must be what you should be doing…

    I'll stop before I drown in my own bromides.

  11. Hazy Davy Says:

    1) I don't like the conflation of "depression" with "unhappiness". In my case, at least, it had more to do with "hopelessness".
    1a) Still, a big fan of G&T, and have never taken chemical antidepressants.

    2) Always, always follow the money. Chemical treatment for depression is big business, so someone benefits. Those same people have an interest in more people being depressed, or diagnosed as such. So their lobbying is a bit like pediatric dentists giving out lollipops.

    3) There's also the social validation that people feel (like the woman at a city council meeting crying and saying "I want my country back"). It's exhibitionism, narcissism, and Munchausen's all in one. So, it occurs to me, since the Tea Party is all about being afraid and discontented, one should check whether Roger Ailes invested in Pfizer before "creating" the Tea Party.

    4) Is there a lot of depression among Cypriots? Weren't they supposedly the most pessimistic people on Earth, but with long lifespans?

  12. Big dog Says:

    I can't tell you why but I don't think I get depressed, or if I do I doesn't last very long. Is anger different from depression? How can you not be angry at the situation that the deteriorating middle class finds itself in? I use a number of calming practices to cool my ire. The more local my focus the less my anger. I "cultivate my own garden" literally. Watching stuff grow, picking it for beauty or food is enormously satisfying. Making art of various kinds which I have the temerity to give away to friends focuses me on the joys of the dance between form and color. My chemical adjustments to my psyche involve alcohol and an occasional joint, but I must admit that I don't have employment or financial worries, which seem to be the driving forces of the depressive epidemic.

  13. Patrick Says:

    We're living in a Brave New World.
    Given the subject, this page is seriously lacking in Aldous Huxley. I'm pretty sure he wrote a very solid book on this subject.

  14. Anubis Bard Says:

    @Patrick:

    "I don't understand anything," she said with decision, determined to preserve her incomprehension intact. "Nothing. Least of all," she continued in another tone "why you don't take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You'd forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you'd be jolly. So jolly,"

  15. Daniel Says:

    I spent around three hours a few days ago arguing with a Rand-bot about the future of jobs in America. It was on a random message board, and my afternoon just went away. I even knew at the time, "This is stupid, what a waste of time. But I still have to argue with this asshole."

  16. Daniel Says:

    I think when you get into flame wars with strangers for hours, and you haven't showered yet…might be a sign that you have some serious depression. Also, the schools aren't back in session yet. Nice day out…MUST ARGUE WITH ASSHOLES. I might need help.

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  18. mothra Says:

    The earliest antidepressant was alcohol, self-prescribed. It's not nearly as fashionable now.

    Yeah, except alcohol isn't an anti-depressant. It is a depressant. People drink to numb the pain. Different from chemically-induced elation or fog–plus if you keep drinking beyond the few that make you feel comfortably numb, you end up in a sad morass, so one has to be careful.

  19. swkellogg Says:

    The fruit of the tree of radical individualism. Artificially flavored, no calories, no nutrients and all you can eat. Enjoy America!

  20. Tom Amitai Says:

    There's no "right to work"; we just have the "right" to try and find a job that will keep us off the streets, and we have to compete with third world workers and machines as well as our fellow Americans. Anybody who isn't depressed under those circumstances is nuts.

  21. Right In The Head Says:

    Huh. What an appropriate post to come back to from lunch and therapy.

    So I *had been* seeing a therapist, weekly, since April 2005. It started with couples therapy a few months after I got married and she dragged me to a guy who would see us pro bono. (Guys are mostly dead-set against therapy, so they say, because it's too expensive, so my ex solved at least one problem.)

    After a few months of both couple and solo sessions (same therapist), my wife and I separated. I lived elsewhere, she in our house, and I came home once a week to check in (though she conveniently was never home), get stuff I needed, and go back to my li'l "retreat cottage" as I liked to call it. (Later I would call it my "safe house." She hated that :)

    Anyway, our first session back "together" (still separated but willing to try couples therapy again) after 2 months of solo-only sessions, she walked out after about 15 minutes. Apparently my studying up on "my problem" (poor communication) by reading all the books both she and the doc recommended, and talking endlessly with the doc about "my problems," and working really hard to figure out what was "wrong" (ask me sometime about "compassionate communication") — apparently none of that really mattered, or it was some kind of ruse to keep her from dealing with her problems, or I know know what. At any rate, she was done; in fact, had been working those 2 months on finding a roommate to fill my, uh, position. So yeah. 15 minutes in, she walks out. Actually I kicked her out: she said she was "done working on this," I asked her to clarify, she says "I'm filing for divorce tomorrow," so I asked her to leave so I could continue my session. Which mostly involved me crying.

    So that was 8 years ago and it took at least 4 to work out a) what happened to cause the split (I still don't know exactly: "Irreconcilable Differences" is what it said on the decree), b) what "my problem" is (I don't have a special one, not like hers, i.e., incest survivor), and c) why my family was such an issue for me (they're not, really, but I often allowed them to be).

    Today, less than 2 hours ago, I had "that talk" with my therapist where we try to determine if I am sane enough to walk the streets without his advice. We've had this talk a few times over the past couple of years. Does he have the power to release me? Can I just release myself?

    Of course I can. I always have. And deep down, I always knew that. At least after about 4 years of weekly talks. So I said goodbye. I'm done. *STAMP* "NOT INSANE."

    You are correct, Ed: Powerlessness/helplessness is the root of all non-chemical imbalance, "situational" crazy, or whatever you want to call it. Even if it has nothing to do with money.

    Come to think of it, though, my ex and I were fighting about money A LOT there toward the end. Huh.

    Oh yeah, your article: I did 8 years of therapy with NO drugs, other than I guess they call it self-medicating with booze and weed. Really, though, I was just enjoying being single, "liberated" as it were, and free to speak my mind.

    ymmv.

    Cheers.

  22. Bernard Says:

    depressed, why should be we depressed?

    just because the Republicans sold the Government to Big Business with Democratic help, why should be we depressed. the Corporate World has since decided we should all be good Consuming Citizens from that point forward or as the great Obama Bush leader says look forward, not backward.

    not like our air, land and water is being polluted by the owners of Congress, Supreme Court or Presidency, aka Wall St. or that our jobs have been sent over seas, or that education has been dismantled or privatized to keep the White Folks dumb and ignorant. nor has the Business decided to pay Americans a living wage, out of poverty, perhaps. not a good reason for Americans to be depressed, EH?

    the dumb shits who voted for Republicans deserve all the depression they have. lol

    the rest of us are rightfully depressed at the future our Business leaders have for us. Soylent Green is just a small part of the fraying ecological disaster that awaits us. the climate is changing. and all i have heard about Conservatism is how they like to keep things the same. Well the changing climate/weather patterns is a blimp obviously, they never cared about anyway.

    so be happy, don't worry. the Fascist/Corporations have a future,and you don't. so take lots of drugs to be "happy". that may be the only Change and HOpe this Manchurian Candidate give us, along with all the BS from our Corporate Masters.

    as they said when i was growing up, "Better Living through Chemistry." enjoy your depression, at least you are in the real world and not living in some fantasy land like those that vote Repubican or Democrat.

  23. Mo Says:

    Tnx, Anubis, for touching on one of my fave topics. The Calvinist nose-to-the-grindstone notion that redemption can be manifest through diligent work has always bothered me. Some people find satisfaction through their work, but it seems to me these folks were usually born that way, with some compelling talent or interest that drives them. The rest of us work for the money that allows us to eat, be clothed, obtain shelter, and move around other than by foot. Money to throw a party. Money for necessities and fun. The job is just the pile of shit that needs to be shoveled, the pile of rocks that must be broken. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

    What the hell would be wrong with a 20-hour work week, anyway, if the pay and bennies were made equivalent to 40 hours? Everybody could work at something or other, and spend the remainder of their time doing far more interesting things. Why are we not working for a 20-hour week and universal health insurance? Tax the 1% at 70% and get on with it. Or are we in the position of being so terrified of falling into the pit of penury and despair that we see looming, that we cannot get together and fill it in, or at least put a cover over it?

  24. planb247 Says:

    sounds like revolution is the only answer….

  25. Syrbal/Labrys Says:

    Patrick called it….it's a brave new world alright, and only the 1% get to live like Alphas.

  26. Paul Says:

    "sometimes I wonder if I know anyone who isn't on antidepressants or hasn't been on them at some point."

    You're talking about white people, huh?

  27. Both Sides Do It Says:

    This post is so fucking good, both analytically and in its level of craft

    Hope it gets saved to the "best of" folder you've got going or something

  28. ladiesbane Says:

    Too many things are jumbled up here. May I suggest reading some solid work on the subject? A few random tidbits: new treatment procedures for depression show high success rates. Antidepressants without counseling do not count as treatment and can be detrimental in the long run.

    And if anyone is tempted, please don't tell me about the idiotic counselor you saw once or twice. It's like dating: if you don't have congruent values and perspectives, there is no meaningful alliance. You're not as easy to fix as a toaster, and part of successful treatment is finding someone you trust and respect — who also has skills. The relationship is the most important part.

    Also, powerlessness does not cause depression. But *feeling* powerless certainly contributes to it. Certain specific steps can be taken to restore a feeling of self-mastery, and it does wonders to alleviate the misery. As others have pointed out, there is a difference between being sad and being depressed, or being lonely and being depressed. There can be major overlap, but you can have any one of those things without any other.

    Don't confuse things sucking with how you feel about things sucking. You can deeply appreciate the horrible aspects of reality, the pain and injustice and evil, and still feel internally buoyant, able to enjoy the beautiful aspects of life. And you can be healthy, wealthy, young, and talented, and still put a bullet through your skull from despair. It's not necessarily your situation, but how you feel about it.

  29. Alex SL Says:

    Despite all the nit-picking in this comment thread about how supposedly people are forced to be happy all the time or the past sucked too, Ed is basically right. There probably has been no time in history where people had the same amount of material comfort as they have now in the developed world. But that is not the point.

    The point is insecurity. You can live in poverty as a medieval subsidence farmer but still be stress-free because you have a stable environment, and you know that if you do your work the next 30 years you will have the same farm to feed you as your father and grandfather had before you. The same for a monk or for a craftsman who has managed to become a full member of the carpenters' guild. Go back further and you find humans living in semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes, likewise doing the same things and using the same skill sets their entire lives.

    Today you have fancier electronic gadgets and a nicer apartment but you don't know if you might have no source of income in two years, for no fault of your own. Which might be somewhat more tolerable if it was only you, but maybe you have two children and a partner whose future and general welfare also depend on you keeping the current job. We weren't built for that kind of permanent insecurity. One of our greatest wishes is that tomorrow reliably looks about the same as today, so that we know what we're at.

  30. acer Says:

    Great post and wonderful comments. You all make me a bit less self-pitying! (And not in an ugly, there-but-for-the-grace-of way.)

  31. April Says:

    Clinical depression is not the same as being emotionally depressed. In my 20's and 30's I went through bouts of clinical depression, EVEN THOUGH my life was ok. (Not great, but adequate.) At the time I (and most other people, for that matter) didn't understand CD. In CD the brain is lacking enough neurotransmitters to function properly, and all the "don't worry, be happy" mantras CAN'T fix the problem. Hence the need for antidepressants.

    In my mid-thirties my physician put me on antidepressants, and I went from just being unable to do….anything to being a capable person again. It had nothing to do with mood. A year the first time, a couple of six-month runs few years later kept me a functional human being.

    Haven't had an episode since. Am I emotionally depressed about what's happening to the America of my birth? Oh, HELL yes!! But I can still get dressed in the morning, and tie my shoes, and bathe regularly and go out and DO STUFF which I could not do during my CD episodes.

    If you've never had CD you don't realize how devastating it actually is. And how different it is from emotional depression.

  32. vegymper Says:

    "We find ourselves at the mercy of forces beyond our control. We have little power and little choice over where we live, what working conditions we will accept, and what wages/benefits we receive."
    Ed, are you channeling south-saharian africans spirits or what?

  33. Mike S. Says:

    @ladiesbane
    > new treatment procedures for depression show high success rates.
    > It's like dating: if you don't have congruent values and perspectives, there is no meaningful alliance.

    so which is it? the methods or the relationship?
    inb4 both;
    the second assertion clearly under-cuts the first

  34. ladiesbane Says:

    @Mike S.: for most people, the best effect comes with both. The thing is, you can do therapy without the drugs, but not usually the other way around.

    As others have pointed out, some depression is situational, and antidepressants can boost functionality just enough (or for just long enough) to get you out of the hole and back on track. Some depression is deeper or recurring, and depending on the cause, it won't go away without therapy. For a lot of people, depressive episodes recur because of faulty cognition patterns (all or nothing thinking, catastrophizing, globalizing, etc.,) and there are techniques to stop that cycle. For others, depressive feelings or behaviors are mistaken for clinical depression when they are really symptoms of different problems, including medical and chemical issues. One of the reasons skilled therapy is important is to get a comprehensive diagnosis that rules out other problems.

    And some problems aren't problems at all. Grieving people come in saying they are depressed, but they are not; they're just sad and they don't think it's normal because none of their friends want to be around them unless they're a laugh a minute. Some people come in thinking they are depressed, but they're feeling appropriate guilt after doing something awful. We live in a feel-good society and anyone who is feeling something uncomfortable thinks OH SHIT GOTTA FIX THAT! Or repress it (thanks, Puritans!) or medicate it away (drink it away, eat it away, long-distance-run it away, shop it away, whatever.)

    A therapist can help you clear out the clog that's keeping you from working right. Appropriate meds can keep you functional until the clog is cleared. Make sense?

  35. Kaleberg Says:

    Weren't the SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) first approved by the FDA in the late 80s? Having a medication for depression meant it was a lot cheaper to treat than the traditional talk therapy approach. How well SSRIs actually worked is still unclear. A lot of mental illness is like a lot of physical illnesses. You get sick. It's awful. You suffer. There isn't much you can do but endure it, if you can. Then it gets better, at least if you are lucky.

    Was depression around in the good old days? Sure it was, just like PTSD and schizophrenia and the other thousand natural shocks the mind is heir to. In the 19th century and earlier, it was usually characterized as melancholy, though "soldier's melancholy" was usually what we would now call PTSD. (That was back in DSM minus twelve or something.) I remember Lewis Thomas describing his mother, a doctor's wife, leaving food outside the door of one of the local teachers who suffered from depression and endured it alone in her apartment. His mother was keeping her alive. I remember a whole book about "the problem without a name" of American women in suburbia in the 50s and 60s, except that now we have a number of names for it. I'm guessing that a lot of "neurasthenia" was what we would now call depression, judging from the descriptions I've read, mainly in novels.

    I can see plenty of reasons to be upset about the modern world. Some people get depressed. Some people get angry. Is it really much worse than the safety net free 19th century? Are horrible office jobs really all that much worse than horrible and, often, dangerous factory jobs? I call it a bummer, but I don't confuse my bummer's with my depression. As for the boom in the 90s. Well, they found a hammer and the hammer found its nails.

  36. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Patrick & Syrbal/Labrys – Also, no, we are not living large a la Huxley; the whole point of the New World was that everybody, from top-to-bottom, was happy with her/his lot. Betas were programmed to love being Betas, Gammas to love being Gammas, and so on. It's interesting–I teach BRAVE NEW WORLD fairly often, asking my students a fundamental question at the end: if the mark of a dystopia is that it is a place inherently *worse* than the world we occupy, is the New World a dystopia?

    Oh, so very many of them give some variation on the answer "If it is, I'd say that it's a preferable dystopia to our world. We're just as plastic as they are, and at least they're shallowly happy–we're all shallowly miserable!" Plus there's health care, bodily safety for women, and everyone has a job s/he loves.

    I point out that they live lives of programmed artifice–that they're told what to want, what to avoid, what to do, what to shun, and the brighter students always point out "Yeah, but so are we! At least their programming is organized–we're being pulled in 20 different directions by our artificially induced desires."

    In short, I'm on the front lines of this society-wide depression (my students run the gamut from 17 to 50, and cover every race and gender and orientation), and I can confirm that it's pretty fucking bad out there.

    Others have pointed out, wisely and correctly, as to the treatable nature of depression with a combination of talk therapy and meds. And have also pointed out that meds are being proffered as a quick fix (though not one that many can afford without insurance) and talk therapy is being de-emphasized as cost ineffective, when speaking up–voicing one's pain and having it heard and understood–is such an essential part of treatment, so depression as a phenomenon is going to get much worse, particularly among its most vulnerable–the poor, the elderly, etc.

    But what the hell do I know–I'm mid-depressive cycle myself at the moment, so everything seems equally fucked and pointless.

  37. Coffeeman Says:

    When I was struggling with the upheaval of a divorce I stumbled on the "Alcoholic's Prayer" on a coworker's cubicle. Understanding what we can and cannot control in life is fundamental to feeling "happy".

    Once we accept that concept, it then becomes a question of what we really want, and how much we are willing to sacrifice to get it.

    There's no pill for that.

  38. oiojes Says:

    Oh, it gets so much better.

    About ten years ago it was discovered that ketamine, a vetted general anesthetic, was able to cure the symptoms of depression pretty much instantaneously. That's right "cure." Not lessen. But make go away.

    However, did the anti-depression drugs cease to be?

    Guess again.

  39. xynzee Says:

    I second what Ladies says on the subject.

    Having suffered from CD most of my life for which I've utilised a combination of A-Ds and counselling for. Living in Aus has given me the luxury of being able to have the choice to say I would only use A-Ds in conjunction with a counsellor.

    A-Ds on their own have become the first and last step for any form of "I feel unhappy state". Be it from grieving the loss of a loved one, to over coming divorce or trying to cope with the constant stress of uncertainty of the at (employer's) will job market.

    The obvious reason is that they're "cheap" and require no commitment little effort on the part of anyone to do anything about the actual "cancer" that's causing the problem. In the short term they get a result. So insurance companies will front up gladly for them.

    I liken them to either they create a temporary platform (like scaffolding) from which to build from or using a parachute that arrests the out of control free fall into the abyss.

    By alleviating the stresses caused by the imbalances in the neurochemistry, an individual can then set about making real changes in their lives and thought processes. Many things can be unlearned and new habits can be learned. Problem is, these take time and patience on the part of the individual. Patience is often a trait that depressed people lack. Especially, when the depression has self-identity and perfectionist issues tied into it.

    So at 25 someone hears George Winston play the piano and tries to play the piano like him with abysmal results. Failing to realise that Winston has been playing since he was young, has a real passion of the piano and a gift that way. However, by taking on this perspective, giving oneself the permission to fail and just enjoy the process of learning one may not achieve the level and skill of a concert pianist like Winston, but they can be content with the pleasure of playing piano and experimenting with what they can do with the instrument.

    Which leads me to a concluding point. Happiness is being content with what you have. That doesn't mean one shouldn't strive to achieve and move out of bad situations. Learning that one is exactly where they're supposed to be at this moment and that's okay (for now).

  40. Sock or Muffin? Says:

    "If you've never had CD you don't realize how devastating it actually is. And how different it is from emotional depression."

    I hate saying THIS but, THIS.

    Also, @Right in the Head, were you and I married to the same woman? Except we spent money on therapy. First therapist I went to solo. All that happened was he bitched about his ex-wife. Second therapist suggested 'date nights'. Third therapist let our sessions become what I liked to call the 'what did Sock or Muffin do wrong hour'. Ex-wife never had any problems and it was all about what I should do to change. Therapist suggested we separate and my wife should start dating other people. Wife did just that, I threw my wedding ring (tungsten, very heavy) through a glass storm door. Wife divorced me. Best day of my life.

    I spent a year recovering/thinking/being single and then saw my doctor about some lexapro. I have a very low dose and still get the highs of life but the crushing lows aren't so crushing anymore. I've been happily seeing someone for almost two years now and I know for certain the meds have helped. So Sorry @Ladiesbane but anecdotally, fuck therapists.

    Of course I still have to deal with coming to work and not knowing if today's the day. That's why I keep some scotch in my desk. Cheers everyone!

  41. Anonymouse Says:

    Re: ketamine–as someone who's worked for a veterinarian and has raised teenagers who have some crazy friends, I've seen the effects of ketamine on animals and humans. A significant percentage of animals and people who have taken ketamine have had an extremely bad reaction to it. It's not a wonder drug that cures all.

  42. Big Sister Says:

    Okay, Ed, time to write a column on the latest fad: gluten-intolerance.

  43. geoff Says:

    I think it's interesting that to illustrate "feelings of hopelessness and pessimism" you go with economic reasons. They're certainly valid, but what about the political? The 2000 presidential election fiasco– five guys (yes, I realize Justice O'Connor, she of the second thoughts, is a woman) on the Supreme Court select W., who proceeds to ignore the threat of terrorism, leading to 9/11, and the wars and the end of basic Constitutional protections for US citizens, torture, etc.

    President Obama promised "Change(tm)" and then doubled down on the same agenda. Not only are we powerless over our economic fates, the political seems out of our control as well. I certainly did not vote for Obama in '08 thinking that he would give Wall Street and the megabanks a pass for blowing up the world (and repay them handsomely), ignore the lies that got us into Iraq and the international kidnaping and torture regime of the GWOT, continue to authorize lawless surveillance by the NSA, and arrogate the "right" as President to assassinate any US citizen (or, hell, anybody period) anywhere in the world without any kind of due process. I mean it just keeps getting worse!

    Or maybe not. I was fairly confident that Ronnie and the Russians were going to end the world by 1985, and it's still here, right? Maybe I'm just depressed.

  44. Big dog Says:

    At this time when all of our resources seem to be sucked up into the 1%, there are two possible strategies for righting this situation. We can try through the political processes available to us to create a more balanced distribution of wealth through taxation like it was when I was a kid…90% taxation for millionaires. I am not very sanguine about the possibilities of this. The second strategy is to starve the capitalist beast by consuming less, leading a simpler life, stop filling storage facilities with stuff you don't need. Upward mobility is one of the fictions of the American dream,people thinking that they are getting to a higher place because they have more stuff. It's a belief system full of contradictions which underlie much of our angst. First move is to throw away your TV which has been colonizing your mind.

  45. JohnR Says:

    The world's been going to Hell for a long time, geoff. Sooner or later, it's likely to get there – or rather, we're likely to get there, but the world will trundle along just fine. Species come and species go, and while it's sort of nice to think that our species is Special, that doesn't mean we're going to necessarily do any better than the Passenger Pigeon. Still, while we're here, let's at least see if we can't help each other out and try to keep the selfish bastards from killing us all.

  46. Mo Says:

    Well, there's always the joy of a nice hobby.

  47. Gerald McGrew Says:

    Sheesh, what a great demonstration of first-world problems.

    Is there a war raging outside your house right now?

    How likely are you to be taken in the night and forced to fight?

    How likely are you to be kidnapped, not for money, but as a sex slave?

    Are you watching your children starve to death?

    Are you likely to be executed for leaving your house without a male relative escort?

    Are you likely to have acid thrown in your face for going to school?

    No, no, no….just "The 1% is making my 401(k) underperform" or "My job is boring". While we all have problems…c'mon guys, a little perspective please. Compared to the vast majority of humanity over the course of history, we've got it pretty damned good. Appreciate what you have and thank that roll of the dice that you were born into a time and place where you're free to bitch and moan about your unfulfilling job while you post comments to a blog on your computer over the internet.

    Your dice were far more likely to land on any number of truly horrible possibilities. The odds never were in favor of any of us, yet we all basically ended up winners. At least be thankful for that.

  48. HoosierPoli Says:

    The Swiss/British philosopher Alain de Botton did a great piece on this exact question, which I won't disparage through summary, except to point out that the execrable Grover Norquist makes an unforgettable appearance. It's worth your time.

  49. ladiesbane Says:

    @Gerald McGrew: I totally hear you on the 1st world problems / perspective check situation, but I think there is still oppression and injustice in 1st world lives that is appropriately met with rage and revolution (and worthy of a host of bummer-related feelings.)

    This issue is totally separate from depression, of course. When you feel non-situational depression, you automatically try to understand it or figure out what's wrong; what's causing my pain? And there is so much bullshit in the world that it's easy to find an external excuse to hang your sad hat on.

  50. Arslan Says:

    Gerald, I would kindly suggest that you go fuck yourself. I live in Russia, which is somewhere between the US and the countries that have "real" problems according to you. But of course the government doesn't execute people, and we don't have a war going on, so I guess we have no right to complain right?

  51. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Gerald–You're right that others have it worse. That's almost always going to be true, just as it's always going to be true that others have it better. But the human character is elastic and adaptable–our capacity for and derivations of happiness change according to our circumstances, which is why those who suddenly become rich aren't automatically happy as a result, while those who suffer devastating plummets of fortune don't usually jump off a bridge as a result.

    The cliche is a lie: Misery is never alleviated by the knowledge that others suffer too, and worse. The problems that people have here in the first world are not the problems of the third world, or of the medieval world, to be sure, but "perspective" doesn't equal happiness–we ought, of course, to do much and more for those who suffer greatly. That we have a moral duty. But every person's happiness is his/her own to claim, or to lose, or to find unlocatable in a world where cynicism is the only rational response to our culture.

    Am I glad–more than glad–that I'm not a woman repeatedly suffering the worst kind of sexual brutality in the DRC? Yes. Absolutely, yes. But does that fact that I'm not on fire mean that I don't suffer from a migraine? No, it does not.

    In short, you're absolutely right, and you've completely missed the point.

  52. Death Panel Truck Says:

    Anti-depressants are strong mind altering drugs, and not in a good way, either. If your depression is situational, address the situation, don't take the anti-depressant. If you are broke, you can be happy without money, happier than you will be on those pills.

    My depression is clinical, and I've been taking meds since 1992. They literally saved my life. As far as being happy without money, well, your last sentence is the dumbest thing I've ever read here. We should just tell everyone who lives in the inner cities, stay away from those evil pills, now! Don't worry about abject poverty! Don't worry, be happy!

  53. John Doheny Says:

    @Jestbill,

    "1. Single payer health insurance.
    2. Minimum National Income.
    3. (Substantially) free education for all ages.
    4. Actual regulation…………………………ah……it's too depressing to continue….."

    I moved here 10 years ago from Canada, and while the Great White North is not nirvana, nor perfect in every one of these areas (they still have old-style "welfare," but the payout remains around $600 a month) it actually fills most of these requirements.

    And surprise surprise, a couple of years ago Macleans Magazine (Canadian equivalent of Time Magazine) published stats showing Canadians as happier and more prosperous than Americans. On a purely anecdotal level, I knew maybe two people up there on antidepressents. Here it seems like half the people I know are on some kind of happy pill.

    I guess it would be stating the obvious to point to Big Pharma as the culprit. But insurance companies are in there too. Over the last 30 years or so, there's been increasing resistance by health insurance companies in America to pay for open-ended "talk therapy" by psychiatrists when it's way cheaper and more "efficient" to just drug people. Reason 562 why US health care stinks on ice.

  54. Southern Beale Says:

    "There is no single reason people get depressed, but there IS a single answer: pharmaceuticals!"

    This message brought to you by Big Pharma. Or to put it another way: is feature, not bug.

  55. John Doheny Says:

    @Gerald Mcgrew,

    "No, no, no….just "The 1% is making my 401(k) underperform" or "My job is boring". While we all have problems…c'mon guys, a little perspective please. Compared to the vast majority of humanity over the course of history, we've got it pretty damned good."

    Admittedly, some of my problems are "first world" problems. I was "fortunate" enough to ive in a word where the predominant trop for improving one's situation is to educate onesself, and at the age of 37, after burning out on years of playing ghetto shitholes and biker bars, i decided to do just that. Aquired three degrees (two undergraduate, one graduate) and spent a few underpaid years in academia having a ball teaching until university politics put me in the street. Now I'm back playing low dollar gigs, but with a fuckton of student loan debt.

    On the other hand, for the working poor in America who are, for whatever reason, required to live in large urban centers, the Third World lives right here in America. I have neighbors who live without electricity or potable water. Gunshots are a regular occurance. Bodies laying in the street for hours waiting for a homicide teams to arrive are also.

    Not everybody on this comments string lives in America. Some of us live in places like New Orleans.

  56. Bitter Scribe Says:

    Perspective is the key. I got thrown out of my job after two years because the company was going under and I made more than the Millennial they gave my job to. After two months of unemployment, I found another.

    I could focus on one set of facts: My new job pays $10K less, is less fulfilling and involves a long-ass commute.

    Or I could focus on another: I didn't lose ground during my unemployment (thanks to unemployment insurance and freelance work), I don't have to worry about my money running out and I have something to do all day besides sit around and fret.

    Bottom line: I've made some mistakes and bad choices (or choices that turned out badly, which is not quite the same thing), but I'm willing to forgive myself and make things work. That doesn't always make me happy and content, but it makes life livable.

  57. geoff Says:

    Just in case anybody's still looking at this, AP has a very relevant story up, "Signs Of Declining Economic Security".

    http://bigstory.ap.org/article/exclusive-4-5-us-face-near-poverty-no-work-0

  58. Gerald McGrew Says:

    To be clear, I wasn't talking about clinical depression. I was talking about the bitching and moaning about everyday first-world life that preceded my post.

    We all have problems, we all have things that piss us off, and we all have issues. But if you're one of those people for whom "my job is boring", "my retirement account is underperforming", or "my student loan payments are high" is your primary source of angst….

    …I strongly suggest you volunteer for the Peace Corps, or as someone else noted, in an inner-city poor neighborhood near you. Then do me a favor. When that mother you're helping laments how many of her children have died, are in jail, or who have simply disappeared, make sure you tell her, "Yeah, I know just how you feel. My boss made me re-write the TCP reports!"

    Seriously though, I wasn't saying if you don't live in complete shit then you have no right to complain. I'm just saying at least try and keep your problems in proper perspective. My boss *is* a dick, my job *is" mostly boring, my 401(k) isn't what it should be….but, I also have a home, a wife, kids, and regular meals. What's in my refrigerator and clothes closet would be the envy of kings a relatively short time ago. This afternoon, I'm going to go play a round of golf.

    If you dwell on only the negative things, the negative things will dwell on you.

  59. cromartie Says:

    Go read Studs Terkel's 'Working'. It's nothing but page after page of people who hate their jobs and their place within the meaningless void of existence that entails working at a thankless job in a soulless machine every day until they drop dead.

    More people and the same thankless jobs with a worse standard of living only magnifies the ennui. None of this is a surprise.

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