In my last Sharepost (Is there a best way to treat depression?) I touched on the issue of culture and depression. Culture is a broad and fairly unwieldy topic. However it's actually a highly significant issue when considering depression. Culture can be thought of in very different ways. East and west, families, communities, countries, popular, organizational culture, and so on. It soon becomes clear that when we talk about culture we're often tapping into it at different levels.
Western culture has acquired a fairly negative image when it comes to mental health issues. Although highly advanced technologically a price has been paid in terms of our increasing fragmentation and detachment from family and community and an appetite for 24-hour living and working. We're more anxious and depressed than ever before and the situation is worsening rather than getting better. The argument that modern technology would one day protect us from ill-health and distress and open up a world of leisure and, by implication greater happiness, is looking decidedly dated.
You don't have to look far to find the dark side of modern living. I recently read a research summary on the relationship between time spent online and incidence of depression. Lead author, Dr. Catriona Morrison, from the University of Leeds, in the UK., found that high internet use is associated with depression. High internet use is frequently associated with gambling, interacting in social communities or viewing sexual content. According to Morrison, ‘the study reinforces the public speculation that over-engaging in websites that serve to replace normal social function might be linked to psychological disorders like depression and addiction.' It's a chicken and egg situation of course. Are people with depression more likely to turn to the internet for distraction or companionship, or do people progressively become more depressed because of the time spent online?
Unlike people of my daughter's generation (she's 20) my upbringing was entirely free from mobile phones and the internet, therefore my development and perspectives are obviously entirely different. I've listened to her friend's say how they can't live without being connected. Vacations are planned on the basis that internet access is available and mobile phones can connect to a network. The extent to which their absence causes real anxiety and distress is a moot point. I've certainly heard parent's describe the misery their kids went through when detached from their digital umbilicus for a week. Equally, I've seen kids come to life when exposed to fresh air and nothing to do but invent their own games and socialize. It's a very mixed picture.
Cultural and social issues are interrelated. Rates of depression are often higher in people who live in big cities. Depression increases with lower social status. Poverty increases the risk of a whole range of psychological disorders. Unemployment, living in isolation, gender, the young, the disadvantaged; the list goes on.