Why Does Everyone Seem Depressed In An Ever More Comfortable World?


Alright so I'm gonna start off this blog by encouraging you to picture a scenario.

It is the 14th century and you live in England. You've just woken up on your straw mattress, next to your fourth brother. As a figure standing above you gently shakes you awake, you rub your eyes until you can clearly see that the figure is your mother. She's crying because your second sister, who was just four years old, died of the bubonic plague.

That's the second sibling that passed away this week. You don't have any time to grieve though because your roofing job starts in only 30 minutes. As you get out of bed covered in the dirt from yesterday's tough work, your mind races anxiously at the possibility that this might be the day you catch the plague. You are surrounded by death, disease, and despair. And there's nothing you can do to avoid it.

This could be a slightly exaggerated account of what life was like for some people in the 14th century, but I wanted to use this example to show just how uncomfortable, unpleasant and unsanitary some aspects of life were back then compared to now. Objectively speaking, if we take a look at all the different periods of human history, we are living in one of the easiest times ever. But when I say easier, that needs some further clarification.

It's best to describe what I mean by "easy" is by looking at Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Which I will reference throughout this article. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory of motivation, which states that five categories of human needs dictate an individual's behavior. The needs are usually expressed in a pyramid like this one below.


And those five human needs are physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs and self-actualization. 

In his theory, Maslow argued that the needs lower down in the pyramid hierarchy must be satisfied before one can attend to the needs higher up in the pyramid. Put more simply, if you're a human, you need to get your food, water and shelter together before you can start to have motivation about love and belonging, and start to care about your self-esteem. 

But even if you do have your physiological and safety needs totally figured out, you'll still kind of crave these needs higher up in the pyramid. Just not nearly as much. I think it's safe to assume that the vast majority of us have the first two needs; physiological, and safety needs pretty much figured out. And this is what I mean by life is easier than several hundred years ago. Much more people have their lower needs like food, shelter, water, and safety satisfied than in the past .So now we can address the fundamental question of this video: if most people have their physiological and safety needs figured out, then why do mental health problems and specifically depression continue to rise?

I'm gonna try to give you some insight into what I think has changed past the whole economic and political imbalance that's usually cited in blogs and contents like this one. Those are the most obvious ones. And the first premise I have is related to that hierarchy of needs that I just explained. Most human beings' priorities have changed pretty dramatically. Because we no longer have to fight for our survival each day, wondering when we'll get the next piece of food to go on living or if we will suddenly lose our shelter, most of our focus has shifted to the needs that are higher up in that pyramid .

When you start to analyze these sub-categories of each of these needs, the answer becomes more and more vivid. Love and belonging needs deal with friendship, a sense of connection and intimacy. Self-esteem needs to deal with respect to status strength and recognition. And self-actualization deals with morality creativity and becoming the best that one can be. 

The focus of these are almost exclusively mental and psychological. Whereas the bottom two needs deal more with the physical aspects of human nature. Although everyone has a different genetic makeup, bone structure and metabolism, the solutions to our physical problems have remained virtually the same for the past thousands of years. Get around seven to nine hours of sleep, drink enough water and eat whole foods.

But our psychological needs are far far more complex than that. Once you have those physiological needs taken care, of you have more of an opportunity to explore your sense of self what you desire and why we even exist. It is true to some extent that the very fact that you have time to think existentially instead of your food and water and shelter is a privilege in and of itself. The human mind and consciousness in general is far more illusory and confusing than the more physical aspects of reality. And it seems like we learn something new about the mind and the potential issues within it every single day. 

So now that our priorities in modern life have shifted towards that of the mind, what has come out of that is an increase in mental diagnoses. In 1917, the American Psychological Association together with the national commission on mental hygiene, developed a plan for gathering uniform health statistics across mental hospitals. Eventually after the extreme psychological disorders that developed from world war II, this evolved into what is known as the DSM or diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.

The purpose of this manual is to help researchers define and classify mental disorders so they can then improve treatment and research. And the most recent version of the DSM has nearly 300 mental disorders listed. Because of that there's just simply more ways to get diagnosed with something nowadays. Many of these mental illnesses did exist in the past but we never had any way to classify them and therefore they were not recorded and studied. Although I do think mental problems seem to be worse now whether they have a classification or not; you need to take into account the fact that there are just many more ways to get diagnosed with something now, which undoubtedly contributes to a rise in mental illness.

Many people who actually have those illnesses and disorders can find relief when someone else can tell them exactly what is wrong with them. Because that usually means there's treatment and a solution. But the way in which this backfire is when people start to self-diagnose and attach too heavily to their diagnoses.

Recently I've come across a very interesting piece of talk. The content creator Sydney Watson has made two really informative videos going into detail on the problems with TikTok in particular and self-diagnosis. And in them she explains how one can get stuck in a social media bubble due to these algorithms and they will start to mostly recommend you content related to a certain mental illness.

Here's an excerpt from one of those videos where she talks about an article written by a woman who self-diagnosed her autism from TikTok:

One day a famous TikToker I had been following had ASD in their bio. I was unfamiliar with this and realized they had autism spectrum disorder. I found this to be interesting because I related to a lot of their posts .I suddenly started having anxiety that I might be on the autism spectrum as well.

Social media algorithms are designed to keep showing you what you engage with, and you become what you consume. So, if young impressionable teens find themselves in some personality disorder or mental illness part of TikTok for too long, even if they previously have no signs of actually having those illnesses, they can sometimes start to actually develop some of the symptoms of these disorders. It reports that doctors are seeing a rise in tick-like behaviors among predominantly teenage girls. They say that this may be connected to TikTok. Either that or they might start thinking that something is seriously wrong with them when they even have just a little bit of depression or sadness .

I'm confident if I tried hard enough to look for symptoms that I have to let's say autism you could see that I am on the autism spectrum somewhere these days we probably all could. Not only is that extremely dangerous, but that is also extremely offensive to the people who actually have these illnesses and disorders. It's safe to say that at least for young teens who don't know any better, the more they think they know about mental disorders, the more they think that something is wrong with them. And having an illness has become damn near glorified on these apps .

The truth for many of us seem to be that we have a hard time grasping that fact that everyone gets sad or inattentive or hopeless or depressed sometimes. And It's totally normal to be lost in your teenage or young adult period when you've just spawned into a life that has no guides or rule book.

And inaccurately diagnosing yourself gives you a reason to firmly attach to one of those more negative aspects of life that everyone experiences and that's when they can start to turn into an even bigger problem and just to reiterate, I am sure that some of these people getting diagnosed actually have these disorders and that only makes this glorification and artificial manufacturing of mental illnesses even more offensive to the people who actually have them. 

Social media is an interesting place, and it's been the source of a lot of my education in my early teens. I'm extremely grateful to have access to all of this information at my fingertips. But the internet and information era has also produced the next problem that I want to talk about .Which can again be seen in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And specifically, the love and belonging section. Not only has community decrease due to things like the internet ,but it's also caused massive distrust between people in general.

In a previous writing on loneliness, I talked about how we are more connected but less connected than ever. It's too easy to get a false sense of intimacy and connection using things like adult websites that keep you comfortable enough to the point where you don't try to pursue an authentic deep connection in real life. A lot of people's face-to-face contact these days, if we can even call it that is with strangers whom they've never actually met online. So, when people especially, teenagers, are required to have face-to-face contact in real life and they realize how fundamentally different it is from online interactions they become confused and anxious and thus have a harder time establishing a connection. But I think what is even more problematic than what I discussed in that loneliness essay is what I said earlier. The general lack of trust.

We are constantly connected to one another. We all know what each of us is doing when we post a story on Instagram or make a tweet. We can see some people's locations on snapchat and we have no excuse to not always be available to talk to someone. And ironically, I think that has made forming friendships and romantic relationships way harder. 

Imagine having a girlfriend in 1920s. You could only contact her if you saw her in real life somewhere, wrote a letter or talked over the telephone. Ninety-five percent of the time you didn't know what she was doing where she was or who she was with. You would think that this would make people generally more suspicious of their significant other but the fact that you didn't know what she was doing 95 percent of the time is the very reason that you trusted her more. Now, if you get ghosted or you don't get a text within a few hours, that automatically garners a level of mistrust. Because they should be able to contact you and make you a priority over many other things because they have a phone in their pocket at all times. At least this is what a lot of us think.

Even going beyond relationships, this is why many people don't trust one another to make a friendship. A solid friendship in the 19th or early 20th century probably consisted of someone whom you only saw during school or at a particular club and maybe you'd reach out to them to hang in a small group or one-on-one sometimes over the telephone. Now you can see everything your friend is doing at all times and gossip can spread much easier and quicker and so if that person ghosts you or is too busy to respond, you can automatically label that as them being a bad friend and you won't trust them. 

Put simply, we all know way too much about each other. We aren't meant to have our whole lives shared on such a global scale, nor are we supposed to know every single atrocity that is happening in the world at all times .The human brain is not even close to being updated to this new level of information overload. And so many of us are unfulfilled and stuck in the love and belonging needs in Maslow’s hierarchy without the level of faith and trust in our fellow man required to establish a sense of intimacy, connection, and community.

Faith is a word that feels all the more rare these days. When you talk to the inhabitants of modern age and society, they apparently lack much of it and that leads me to the last potential problem highlighted that could be fueling this era of depression, and in parallel Loneliness too perhaps. 

The prevalence of Individualism. To quote Kurzgesagt in its brilliant video on this subject of Loneliness and the lack of connection,

The loneliness epidemic we see today really only started in the late Renaissance. Western culture began to focus on the individual. Intellectuals moved away from the collectivism of the Middle Ages, while the young Protestant theology stressed individual responsibility. This trend accelerated during the Industrial Revolution. People left their villages and fields to enter factories. Communities that had existed for hundreds of years began to dissolve, while cities grew. As our world rapidly became modern, this trend sped up more and more. Today, we move vast distances for new jobs, love, and education, and leave our social net behind. The closely-knit community that held up ourselves together for hundreds of years slowly has begun to fade away.

In the US, the mean number of close friends dropped from 3 in 1985 to 2 in 2011. Most people stumble into chronic loneliness by accident. You reach adulthood and become busy with adult life stuffs. There's just not enough time for everything. The most convenient and easy thing to sacrifice is time with friends. Until you wake up one day and you realize that you feel isolated,
that you yearn for close relationships.

While humans feel pretty great about things like iPhones and spaceships, our bodies and minds are fundamentally the same they were 50,000 years ago. We are still biologically fine-tuned to being with each other. Large scale studies have shown that the stress that comes from chronic loneliness is among the most unhealthy things we can experience as humans.

Carl Jung on the sufferings of our modern age
Carl Jung on the sufferings of our modern age

I feel like to add a few more things on the subject as it demands exploring through all the hideous corners and complexities to understand our suffering in modern world. I think it's necessary to address the roles of Religion, Social Hierarchy and Technology in our current state of despair. However it'd be too long in a single blog to write down everything so perhaps in future I'll address the latter part of this topic. 

No matter what happens. I think it's incredibly important for those who love to entertain the thoughts on philosophy and our role in society as in general, and those so who can't understand and accept why terrible things happen in the world to start to explore the writings of existential philosophers like Frederick Nietzsche, Albert Camus and John Paul Sartre. I'll leave some links to their work at the end. If you're interested, I always recommend looking towards philosophies such as existentialism, absurdism if you're struggling to find some form of meaning in the absurdity of existence. 

When you start to break away from a completely objective and rational mindset towards everything, diverse and fuse your thoughts with creativity, one thing we all are fortunately gifted with, you will much more easily be able to find joy in the good and the bad, the simple and the complex and learn how to break free of the unconscious dread looming over most of modern society right now. 

Because in my 23 years of living on this earth so far, I found that much of what quenches the human soul do not tend to lie in any constrained realm or extreme ends of the spectrum. I don't have all the answers and solutions and I'm sure that there are many more layers to this global problem than what I've just described in this writeup. 

Because of that I'd love to hear and discuss your thoughts and solutions in the comments below. And I hope that I was at least able to get you to start to think more deeply about all these different aspects of life and what's really going on to make people feel like things are worse than they are. 

Love y'all for coming this far and engaging with my thoughts. ❤️

Pritam Chakraborty

As I was moving through life, I occasionally saw brief glimpses of beauty.

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