The Oxford based research center Our World in Data recently published a report showing that in many countries, “People are being diagnosed with depression at an earlier age than in the past.” The report showed that in Denmark, for example, in 1996, the highest share of people diagnosed with depression were around the age of fifty. Twenty years later, in 2016, the highest share of people diagnosed with depression were twenty-four-year-olds. While the research center attributed the earlier diagnosis to growing willingness to “seek treatment for mental health conditions,” other researchers have found different reasons for the earlier age of diagnosis.
Indeed, we are living in special times. In previous times, people were more connected to the land, to the soil. Today, everything is artificial. We are born and live within the walls of the hospital, then the walls of a house, then the walls of a school, then the walls of a business. As a result, we are different from previous generations, and our approach to life is also different.
To prevent depression, we need to make constant investments with the right approach, since people are no longer adapted to natural living. The investment is not a financial one. Rather, we need to build an envelope that will serve as a mediator between the new generation and the reality they live in. This envelope should prepare them for life on every level—personal, social, and environmental. They need to learn how to communicate and connect with one another and with nature. Otherwise, they will be lost, as is already happening.
Previously, people were more outside than they are today. They communicated with other people, and much of their lives involved interaction with others. Today, they do everything online and indoors, and the outdoors and other people are unfamiliar to them. We must familiarize them with the outside world, make them spend less time on their own and on their phones or laptops, and communicate instead with other members of the family, friends, real friends, flesh and blood ones, and with animals.
The technological advancements of the past several decades have enveloped us in gadgets, and disconnected us from people. Even our food is not real food, and we don’t make it; we only heat it in a digital microwave.
We needn’t shun technology; we only need to help people balance their lives. And the key factor in reestablishing balance is constructive, positive, and supportive human connections. If people find that connections with other people satisfy them in ways that technology cannot, they will nurture them.
Today, people mostly feel that their connections with others are competitive, where each one tries to outsmart, outperform, and generally outdo others. This is very tiring, so people naturally turn to a less competitive and abusive environment: the digital one. If people had positive experiences from their relations with others, if they felt that other people approve of them, appreciate, and welcome their company, they would have no reason to retreat into a virtual environment.
Moreover, connections with other people can give them what no technology can: meaning in life. Life becomes meaningful and purposeful only in connection with other people. The reciprocal giving and receiving gives meaning and purpose to everything we do. When we do something for another person, it stays. The act takes on a life of its own, a new meaning, and it affects our lives and the lives of the other people involved in ways we cannot predict. When we do something online, with ourselves, our act is lost in the digital cloud and leaves us feeling empty and meaningless.
Therefore, if we want to cure depression, we must find ways to encourage people to go out, communicate, and connect with other people. It will give them joy, satisfaction, and meaning, and a meaning in life prevents depression.