“Some mental disorders aren’t merely common—they’re the norm”, or so a recent Science News article, Rates of common mental disorders double up, reports. Note the tallest bar in the graph showing a recent prospective study of 1000 New Zealanders assessed for mental disorders eleven times between the ages of 3 and 32.
No doubt, such a study done in the USA would at least match New Zealand’s 50% anxiety number. Claiming 50% of the population has a mental health issue is somewhat bizarre.(1) How could half the human population have a “common mental disorder”? Disorders are presumably non-normal events. Can something so common be non-normal?
Overall, I feel these researchers are focusing on what is a symptom of our culture rather than underlying causes. This is especially so if mental disorders are the norm now. Given that the current norm is a 50/50 chance of having a mental disorder, perhaps something more fundamental is taking place. I imagine this something, lying at the heart of our cultural norms, is something we may not wish to see.
I suspect an increasing sense of disconnection that people feel causes most mental disorders we see now. The significant popularity of social media platforms and cell phones arises from our deep-seated need to feel more connected than we do. Simply put, we have a social thirst that goes unquenched. I can’t imagine members of close-knit tribal groups — our ancestral norm — being this socially thirsty. They had the true social security that a life-long bond of interdependent relationships provides. The unintended consequence of civilization is the loss of the close-knit tribal life style. Tribal loyalty was a core factor in the social bond. The closest match to this type of bond now-a-days is the nuclear family. Alas, a multitude of cultural distractions now competes for the attention of each family individual, which leaves even the nuclear family divided.
Accepting that civilization itself causes most of our problems is probably a very hard pill to swallow. After all, isn’t civilization a measure of human progress and a boon to humanity? Certainly, civilization has been a boon materially speaking. However, at some point doesn’t every seemingly good thing become too much of a good thing. The fact that trading up from our longstanding ancestral ways to civilization led to mental disorders is hard to entertain if one values civilization and naively expects progress to be a win win. Clearly, the world we see tends to reflect what we expect to see, and this is largely a result of what our culture has taught us. That makes a researcher’s task difficult, especially any researcher in the social sciences, where their cultural background may easily color their observations.
(1) Perhaps this 50% anxiety level reflects our disease… as chapter 71 more literally puts it, Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease. Still, according to this chapter, we’re pretty well all nuts.