Of All the Countries in the World, We’re the Unhealthiest

We’re headed in the wrong direction in our mental health. Why is that?

Posted Feb 01, 2020

An international study ranked the Disability-Adjusted Life Years for nearly 200 nations. DALYs represent the degree of disability and death in a population due to various sources and conditions.

The U.S. is near the bottom in many key categories: Among 196 countries (both technologically/economically advanced and not) the U.S. ranks fourth in overall DALYs lost to mental disorders (fifth in anxiety, 11th in depression) and second combining all drug use disorders (first from cocaine use; second from amphetamine use; third from opioid use).

(Source: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Global Burden of Disease Results Tool.)

It’s stunning that we are doing so poorly given the vast amount of attention, resources and treatment we devote to these conditions (including antidepressants and medication-assisted addiction treatment — MATs — in both of which we are world leaders).

What accounts for our failures in avoiding/overcoming these key emotional and drug disorders? Here are suggestions.

1. We separate mental health and addiction in our thinking from addressing overall quality-of-life issues, including community support, economic stress, and children’s self-sustenance.

2. We believe that raising children to be healthy is primarily a matter of diagnosing their emotional disorders and keeping them away from drugs, rather than encouraging independence, the ability to relate to others, and life-affirming values, and developing life purpose.

3. When we encounter emotional and drug problems, we instantly refer them to external medical experts and treatment, rather than examining family functioning and daily life factors.

4. We have had usurped from our lives over half a century and more the key element in mental health and life functioning — personal agency and self-empowerment.

5. Although emotional intelligence and mindfulness are national buzzwords, we don’t allow ourselves to exercise these abilities or develop them in our children due to our anxiety about our and our children’s capacities to cope with life.

6. We have lost the capacity for joy through our life experience and engagement in the worlds in which we live — including the natural world and the human-designed world.

Since we are pointed in such a wrong direction (“How can we provide more treatment and medications for what ails us emotionally and in our failures at coping?”), the very recognition of the seriousness of our problems only drives us further into the hole we have dug — and continue digging — for ourselves.

It requires an entirely different mind set to address our emotional and addictive disorders as problems of living rather than as medical problems; and we grow less capable of doing so daily.