There is good reason to believe that the world is getting more depressed. T.M. Luhrmann, Professor of Anthropology at Stamford travels a lot, frequently to the third world, so she has a chance to sample what people say and note how that changes over time. But she also cites data such as the World Health Organization’s report that “suicide rates have increased 60 percent over the past 50 years, most strikingly in the developing world.”
Writing in The New York Times, she notes the report predicts: “by 2020 depression will be the second most prevalent medical condition in the world.” She adds: The British medical journal, The Lancet, “found a 36.7 percent increase in the ‘burden’ of mental illness and substance abuse disorders across the globe.” And then: “In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the rate of antidepressant use in the United States rose by 400 percent between 1988 and 2008.” (See, “Is the World More Depressed?”)
None of this is proof of the trend, but it is highly suggestive – and worrisome.
How does she account for it?
She mentions the usual suspect, urbanization: “cities . . . break traditions and fracture families, and they breed psychiatric illness.” But then she adds an interesting thought. “It turns out that your sense of relative social rank — where you draw a line on an abstract ladder to show where you are with respect to others — predicts many health outcomes, including depression.” In the Facebook Age, where “friends” are constantly checking each other out, “It may truly be a depressing reflection.”