Health Matters

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The Culture of Depression: Nature, Materialism, and Depression

The physical world we have created and within which the incidence of depression is most rapidly rising is the densely populated Western city. It is made of concrete, steel, glass and asphalt. Most of us breathe hydrocarbon polluted air, eat nutritionally harmful or vacuous food (see your local fast food menu or supermarket tomato or strawberry for details), and drink plasticized bottled water. Read More

Well said sir!

Well said sir!

Integrative Thinking

Thank you for this article. I agree with the views and would extend the symptoms beyond depression to include the broader matter of sustainability. To meet both we need to train people to think, plan, organize, govern and act in an integrative way which is consistent with our currently much-improved understanding of the human mind and our world. We need widespread training in Integrative Thinking as well as in Critical Thinking.

You are perfectly WRONG.

Finding meaning and deep satisfaction (and reducing depression, emptiness and malaise) requires three things: hard work, sacrifice and commitment.

Through most of history people had to engage in these things just to survive.
Modern technology and culture have enabled people to meet basic needs without them. But the consequence is that almost every facet of life has been stripped of these items that are essential to happiness.
1) Long-term commitment and dedication to play a musical instrument has been replaced with Guitar Hero.
2) Religious study to meticulously learn practice and doctrine have been replaced by either “religion as a cultural phenomenon” or going to watch a religion show once a week.
3) Toiling at ones craft to become a master craftsman has been replaced by just “putting your eight hours in” (Monday through Friday)
4) Struggling to care for elderly family members, teach children, and repair your car or home have been replaced by government or private services.
5) Struggling to learn an art form or sport has been replaced by watching them.
6) Working hard to make a marriage work in sickness and in health has been replaced by…

The solution is not some new age connectedness or all of the vague, unattainable things you mentioned.

The solution can be found in all of the people who are happy: those who are enjoying reaping the benefits of hard work, sacrifice and commitment.
Parent: teach this to your children and set an example.


Are you certain, Wayne? You make some decent points, but I disagree with you on a fundamental level. I agree that hard work and commitment are important, but I would not say that they are the determining factors in avoiding depression for everyone. I have friends who work terribly hard, sacrifice and are committed to their relationships and yet they still go through periods of depression. They engage in sports and don't play Guitar Hero.
- - -

I think this is another fantastic entry, Dr. Hedaya.

Response to Tina

Fair point. I should have been clearer. There are numerous sources of depression and it can affect anyone, regardless of how hard they work, etc.

The depression that I focus on is depression that's not tied to a specific source, such as a personal loss, divorce or severe health problems.

I do believe that over the long term, people like those you mentioned- working hard and sacrificing toward committed relationships, etc. will be rewarded with greater satisfaction and happiness- and generally less or more muted effects of depression.

Reply to Wayne

Wayne, you say: "The depression that I focus on is depression that's not tied to a specific source, such as a personal loss, divorce or severe health problems."

One of the points I want to make in this blog is that when you study depression, or almost any chronic disorder for that matter, there is generally no specific source. Looking for a specific source is linear thinking, rather than wholistic-comprehensive, hermeneutic thinking. Linear thinking (works great when you break a bone, or perhaps if you have a simple type of infection) is one reason why we have such a poor success rate at treating chronic illness in this country. And its part of why our health care system doesn't work well.

So, instead of looking for a specific source and prescribing hard work etc-, I look for antecedents (the things that make one vulnerable prior to the episode), triggers (in your example, a divorce, severe health problems, personal loss), and mediators (neurotransmitters, cytokines,NPY etc etc). That is one way of describing my approach. (Who knows, maybe my model needs revision. If it does, I will change it. I certainly do not claim that its perfect-far from it, just haven't come up with something better yet.)

Now, once you have these things figured out you address the various levels of dysfunction. Some of these are in the individuals control, and some may not be. Check out Seligman's model of learned helplessness. I think it might help you understand something akin to your prescription that has to do with hard work, but approaches it from a different angle.

Everyone has a point, a belief and is right

Everyone is right here - not 'perfectly wrong' for the determining factor is people's beliefs. These can underpin a resilience to almost anything (e.g. Victor Frankl) or a learned helplessness, or anything in between.

I am afraid that Wayne W's beliefs are a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is not to say that hard work is not a part of success and happiness, or avoiding or recovering from depression. It is not a pre-requisite or by any means a guarantee.

new beginnings

This is a really beautiful post, Robert. I've been enjoying your blog :)

Rock bottom is a wonderful place to be really. There's every opportunity in the world to make things right and to reinvent oursleves into a more loving society.

:) YG

making me understnad more to a better extent that materialism is what encircles us today and can be a cover up for what is not our own reality...

Wow, I am doing a materialism essay for my Honors English class and this article was really interesting. I am also like this nature/hippie geek, so the the understanding of this 'disconnection of nature' part was really brought up to my attention. I really enjoyed this article and gave me more ideas to re-enhance my argument..Thankyou! :)

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Robert J. Hedaya, M.D., D.F.A.P.A., is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Georgetown University Hospital and Founder of the National Center for Whole Psychiatry.


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