‘Money can’t buy happiness.’ A phrase used so often it has begun to lose the potent meaning with which it was coined.
But in a society where suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50, can we really choose to ignore the deeper meaning of this expression?
In the 21st Century we have the world at our fingertips, literally. Acquisition of material goods can be made from your bedroom and arrive within a matter of hours.
It is this unprecedented instant gratification that has caused depression to become rife throughout our society, with one third of employees in the UK struggling to cope at work because of the disease.
Perhaps most shockingly, this phenomenon has become so common in Japan as to have its own name, Karōshi, literally meaning ‘death from overwork.’
This state of humanity, as a mere consumer and unquestioning labourer, is so far removed from our evolutionary past where creativity, individuality and liberty were prerequisites for a normal existence; modernisation has outpaced evolution.
What this means is the intrinsic values of human nature are misaligned with the society in which we live, and the result appears to be depression.
We are flooded with preventative measures to ensure lower risk factors for killers such as cancer and heart disease; don’t smoke, eat healthily etc. because it’s obviously preferable that people don’t develop these diseases in the first place, rather than treating them once they do.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case for depression.
80% of sufferers are likely to have a second episode after taking medication, thus making it clear how the medication is only treating the symptoms, and not the illness.
Additionally, such medications are described as ‘chemical lobotomies’ by those who take them, claiming they have lost a part of their personality.
This furthers the idea that our nature is not compatible with our society; in order to treat those struggling to cope, the primary port of call is to suppress part of their identity.
Of course, people have suffered from depression for thousands of years, Hippocrates wrote of Melancholia in his Aphorisms and Persian societies also recognised it similarly as a classifiable illness.
However, no society has ever experienced such high levels of suicide and depression as the current western world since the start of public consumerism, when U.S. President Hoover declared the American people had been transformed into ‘constantly moving happy machines.’
These ‘machines’ were created as they made more docile, appeasable citizens. Now the ramifications are proving that far from being happy, citizens are killing themselves at unprecedented rates.
As society seems to be all encompassing, there is no easy way to avoid its negative aspects but, paraphrasing Gil Scott-Heron, we don’t have to subscribe to this world’s madness.
Pausing and reflecting on how modern living is shaping our minds may be the first step to solving our depression crisis.
Image: Wikimedia Commons