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Understanding Depression

Ranking America's Mental Health: An Analysis of Depression Across the States says:

"Depression is a chronic illness that exacts a significant toll on America's health and productivity.  It affects more than 21 million American children and adults annually and is the leading cause of disability in the United States for individuals ages 15 to 44. 

Lost productive time among U.S. workers due to depression is estimated to be in excess of $31 billion per year. Depression frequently co-occurs with a variety of medical illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and chronic pain and is associated with poorer health status and prognosis. It is also the principal cause of the 30,000 suicides in the U.S. each year. In 2004, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, third among individuals 15-24. 


Despite significant gains in the availability of effective depression treatment over the past decade, the level of unmet need for treatment remains high. On average, people living with depression go for nearly a decade before receiving treatment, and less than one-third of people who seek help receive minimally adequate care.  "

Why are Americans so depressed when our standard of living is the envy of the world?
The NY Times article Post-Prozac Nation refers to the book Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America by Elizabeth Wurtzel which is the basis of a DVD by the same name.

The article points out:

"In her 1994 book “Prozac Nation,” Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote of a nearly transcendental experience on the drug. Before she began treatment with antidepressants, she was living in “a computer program of total negativity . . . an absence of affect, absence of feeling, absence of response, absence of interest​.”

She floated from one “suicidal reverie” to the next. Yet, just a few weeks after starting Prozac, her life was transformed. 'One ​morning I woke up and really did want to live. . . . It was as if the miasma of depression had lifted off me, in the same way that the fog in San Francisco rises as the day wears on. Was it the Prozac? No doubt.'

Like Wurtzel, millions of Americans embraced antidepressants. In 1988, a year after the Food and Drug Administration approved Prozac, 2,469,000 prescriptions for it were dispensed in America. By 2002, that number had risen to 33,320,000. By 2008, antidepressants were the third-most-common prescription drug taken in America.

Fast forward to 2012 and the same antidepressants that inspired such enthusiasm have become the new villains of modern psychopharmacology — overhyped, overprescribed chemicals, symptomatic of a pill-happy culture searching for quick fixes for complex mental problems."​

The 2013 article America: #1 In Fear, Stress, Anger, Divorce, Obesity, Anti-Depressants, Etc. points out:

"The United States is a deeply unhappy place.  We are a nation that is absolutely consumed by fear, stress, anger and depression. It isn't just our economy that is falling apart -- the very fabric of society is starting to come apart at the seams and it is because of what is happening to us on the inside. The facts and statistics that I am going to share with you in this article are quite startling. They are clear evidence that America is a nation that is an advanced state of decline.  We are overwhelmed by fear, stress and anxiety, and much of the time the ways that we choose to deal with those emotions lead to some very self-destructive behaviors. 

Americans have experienced a standard of living far beyond the wildest dreams of most societies throughout human history, and yet we are an absolutely miserable people. Why is this? Why is America #1 in so many negative categories? Why are we constantly looking for ways to escape the pain of our own lives?  Why are our families falling apart? There is vast material wealth all around us. So, why can't we be happy?

The article continues with a long list of the ways that Americans are suffering emotionally and mentally now -- including many kinds of addictions. Robert Tindall says in The Jaguar that Roams the Mind: An Amazonian Plant Spirit Odyssey that addicts suffer from a sense of meaninglessness and addictions are an attempt to escape depression. Is depression a reaction to the sense of meaningless at the heart of the American Dream? Are Americans craving a sense of wholeness not easily available in this culture?

Perhaps this is why so many Americans and other Westerners are flocking to the Amazon now to drink ayahuasca with shamans and to the Andes to study with Incan priests. The West desperately needs to recover the path to transcendence, meaning, connection, and rootedness. Rather than trying to medicate our sense of malaise, we need to tranform our worldview. Native America is perhaps the best guide.


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