Depression – A Reasonable Response to a Modern World?

Years ago I came across a snippet in an article suggesting that commercialization might be contributing to the increasing global rates of depression.  It radically changed my perspective (once I figured out what commercialization meant).

I had started out thinking depression was my fault, then moved to “it’s a chemical imbalance” but reading that article made me wonder if our modern world might have something to do with it. Something about that idea resonated with me.

Certainly I had felt like a cog in an economic machine.  In my 20s and 30s my existence seemed to be about making money and then spending it.  As I searched for a way to feel happy, I found myself bombarded with messages of “buy this and you’ll be happier”.  Just be a good consumer and you’ll fit in just fine.

modern world

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Happiness comes from finding meaning in life.

Our market based society would have us believe happiness comes from pleasure and material wealth, essentially from consuming.   It’s a fun trip but a dead end on the road to happiness.

On the flipside of consuming is producing.  The value on producing leads us to believe that doing matters more than being.  I had bought into this idea.  I suppose it’s the same for all living creatures – a bear just being a bear in the woods has no value.  Stick him in a zoo and now he’s got value.  Actually I suppose he’s got value in the woods because you can buy a license to shoot him.

So I was all for being a producer but then I struggled with feeling like a commodity.  I needed my work to make a difference but the line of sight to that difference was blurry.  The line of sight from my work to increasing shareholder value was clearer but not motivating.

When I was diagnosed with depression at 27, I had no clue why I’d become depressed.  No one else did either.  Years later I had a theory that I had become overwhelmed with a sense of being useless in the world.  Not needed except as a producer and consumer.

To compound my feelings of uselessness, I felt I hadn’t met any of the measures of success.  I was unmarried, with a career going backwards, no house and no car. In fact, I only cared about the career but I felt incredible pressure to have all the other trappings as well.  I became depressed.

I felt rejected.  Like I didn’t belong here.  That I wasn’t useful in any meaningful way.

Tack on a diagnosis of a mental illness and I really felt like a loser.  But wait it gets worse.  Want to really feel like a commodity?  Get a mental illness.  You as a person will disappear and you will be seen as a collection of symptoms with all sorts of things you’re going to need to buy to get ‘fixed’.

I do think my feelings of having a commercial existence and then comparing myself to others contributed to my feelings of worthlessness.  In addition to feeling disconnected from society, I was also starting to feel disconnected from the rest of nature.  The whole world seemed absurd to me.

I still feel especially concerned about our separation from the natural world.

We are never closer to nature than when we are eating it.   Yet our relationship with food seems out of whack.  Some of what we think is food has never even been alive.  As for real food, we don’t know where it came from, or what cruelty or environmental destruction had to occur for it to be cheap.

Does this depress me?  No, not really but it disturbs me.  It further reminds me that I live in an unsustainable commercialized world and it doesn’t feel right.  I feel ill at ease.

Is depression, like all pain, just a sign that something is wrong? 

Is it a signal from our body to pay attention to what’s going on inside ourselves or outside in the world?  I think it might be.

Do you think depression can be a subconscious response to a commercial existence and/or an absurd world?

Me July 2013

About the Author
Michele Longo
I promote peer support and encourage people on their recovery journeys. My plan with this blog is to build a community of like-minded individuals offering ideas and encouragement from their own experiences. My master plan is to help create psychologically safe and supportive workplaces. I live in Calgary, Canada.

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