I thought of that when I read about a new strategy for fighting depression – one that involves no pills, no brain scans … virtually no technology of any kind – and is incredibly affective. In some studies, 94% of patients report an end to depression in six months or less. In other studies, 97%.
What is this miraculous new cure? This brain-hacking innovation? It’s getting people to talk with each other. Essentially peer lead group therapy.
The research is being conducted in the developing world, in areas where mental health treatment options are extremely scarce … and so far it’s focusing on women, because it’s possible to circumvent the cultural proscriptions against seeking mental health treatment by telling them that having their symptoms addressed is good for their children. So the sample group is limited. But the staggeringly good results strongly suggest that it is our approach to mental health in the first world … our privatizing organic “social networks” and replacing them with network of insurance providers dictating terms to health care professionals who emphasize the pill popping for mood adjustment at the expense of actually talking to people … that gets it all wrong.
With depression rates rising significantly in much of the modern world – even as more and more mood altering drugs are prescribed – it may be that it is modern culture itself which has so degraded our ability to have routine, deep, in person connections with one another, and that this is creating a crisis in mental health.
(The other option – that we have not lost the capacity to have deep, in person, connections with one another in the developed world, but that life here is so toxic that the only way masses of people can tolerate existence in the industrialized world is through medication – actually scares me much more. But while possible (brrrr) I think that stretches past what the research so far is telling us. Still, makes you wonder.)
Thinking of this, I am reminded of the way so many people believe that Burning Man … a camping trip that costs excess money and includes a higher chance of being run over by a mechanical octopus … is a crucial part of their mental health regimen. Kinda ridiculous – but people swear by the therapeutic power of Burning Man so much that I’ve had to write entire screeds reminding people that Burning Man is not “therapy Disneyland” and that it’s okay to be unhappy when you’re here.
Yet it may very well be … humanistic psychology has often said so … that what we call “radical self-expression” is in fact a vital component of mental health. While the public perception of creative genius ties it to madness and mental illness, research actually suggests that it is human beings who lack an outlet for their creativity – in whatever form is meaningful to them – who are at a higher risk of depression and mental illness. (more…)