Our Mental Health Crisis as a Cultural Phenomenon
Dr. Ilardi thinks that he’s found the answer: Increased rates of depression and other mental health woes like anxiety and addiction are a byproduct of our modernized, industrialized and urbanized lives. Our love affair with the gadgets and comforts of being a highly technologically evolved society have put us on a never-ending treadmill of overworking, under-sleeping and hyper-stressing as we exhaustedly lunge towards the “American Dream”.
What happens when we work longer hours in soul-crushing cubicles to buy things that we don’t need? According to Dr. Ilardi: “We’ve been engineering the activity out of our lives. The levels of bright-light exposure-time spent outdoors-have been declining. The average adult gets just over six and a half hours of sleep a night. It used to be nine hours a night. There’s increasing isolation, fragmentation, the erosion of community.”
Thus, according to Ilardi, “We feel perpetually stressed.”
Dr. Ilardi had found that certain societies-such as the American Amish and the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea, had essentially zero rates of depression or other mental health disorders. But how can this be? We are all essentially wired the same way–have the same DNA. And these cultures that were much more mentally healthy than ours certainly didn’t live stress-free lives. Indeed, by many measures, it is a lot more difficult living as a hunter-gatherer in New Guinea or working from-morning-to-dusk as the Pennsylvania Amish do.
So then how and why are they so mentally healthy? Answer: Their lifestyle.