Why is the signature illness of our new century “clinical” depression? This is a question I have often asked myself and not just because at times in my life I have suffered from the terrible blight and debilitation of this illness. What has been sucked out of the lives of so many of our citizens so as to leave them as virtual zombies and the prime fodder for the great “pharma” providers of “happiness pills”?
The answer must lie at least partly in the lack of meaning, the dearth of creative, active roles in our liberal-capitalist forms of community and society. There is no denying that once established, depression is an imbalance of certain chemicals and hormones, but its growth and dominance within our society cannot just be put down to pure genetics or chemistry. Depression is largely absent in traditional forms of society. So it must also have its major roots in the present dysfunctional social order, which largely fails to supply its citizens with meaningful lives, and which is becoming the dominant order in the global community.
What are the missing ingredients to happiness that global communications and capitalism do not seem able to supply? I think these can be very simply and directly defined:
1. Positive feelings of self-worth created out of a nexus of real social and human relationships in which touch and face to face communication still has the major role.
2. Jobs that can confirm self-worth and the valuation of a person´s own critical and creative faculties.
3. Real democracy in which people feel they have a control over their own lives and a serious role to play in social arrangements of the whole. The political whole is often too big and faceless for self-identity with the political process.
4. True inter-connectedness between family members, which is undermined by the extreme nucleation and serialization of family life.
What has sucked away our happiness?
1. The superiority of purely materialistic values and a status built on material possessions - which are ultimately meaningless when faced by illness, old age and death.
2. The failure of religion or science to supply us with a meaning to life in a modern context, as well as to give us our earthly role in the cosmos and global society.
3. The failure of both left and right in political vision, and the general replacement of political ideals by those of economic management and efficiency. The obvious hypocrisy too that is in-built to modern forms of liberal democracy.
4. The onset of “early retirement” and of the separation between generations; the individualization of the pensioner, both economically and socially.
5. The pervasive feeling of fear of the "other" stoked up by the modern media.
The great question is, then, how can we rebuild our societies to include the first category and overcome the second? Pills can only be a short-term and highly unsatisfactory, inefficient and uneconomical solution.