USA Today recently reported that antidepressant use in women has increased a whopping 400% in the past two decades.
The puzzling question is whether women have always been this depressed and haven’t had medications available or has depression in us really increased this dramatically? Regardless of the reason, the fact that 1:4 adult women in the United States needs antidepressants should alarm each of us that some serious soul searching and restructuring of our lives may be in order.
Many say that we are depressed because we haven’t fulfilled career goals. Others suggest that we are hyper vigilant in our mothering and hence drive ourselves (and our children) crazy. And there are those who surmise that if we found the right balance between work and home-life, worked harder at our marriages or got in better physical shape, then… maybe we would be less depressed and happier content with our lives. I think that each of these theories is wrong.
I think the answer is more simple: we are terribly lonely.
Yes we work hard, worry about our kids and our jobs and do the lion’s share of work at home. But women have done so for years. Think about the women who survived the Great Depression. Or travel to remote mountains of Peru. There you will find 70 year old women who hike the hills behind their homes to farm corn or potatoes, only to come down at the end of the day to cook family meals. Are these women depressed? Some are, but many aren’t.
I don’t believe that American women are just whiners. I believe that we are genuinely anxious and depressed because something central to our survival has eroded from beneath us. We have lost community.
We are so busy making our kids and bosses happy that we have abandoned friends and family. We live in big homes thousands of miles away from our siblings and children who love alone in their big homes. We leave the television on to drown out the silence in our homes and we go on Facebook in the evenings to feel as though we are participating in people’s lives. But the problem is, we aren’t participating.
I have found great satisfaction in my career as a physician. But the intensity of the satisfaction pales in comparison to the comfort I receive when my sister comes to sit with me as we grieve the loss of our mother. And when my son calls to “just say hello”, the joy that wells within me drives out any gloominess. Women need love from loved ones more than we need to seek fulfillment from higher paying jobs or from fanatically forming “successful children” who play three sports per season.
We women weren’t created to live separately from friends and family. You could be the CEO of Proctor and Gamble, but if you have no community with loved ones, you will never find contentment. A woman can have ten successful children, but if they all grow up and live half of a world away, she will have little happiness.
Nothing brings joy into our lives like the presence of a loved one. Nothing. If we are sad, a friend sitting across the kitchen table gives comfort. The surest way to crowd out loneliness is to call someone and go for a walk. In our intellectual quests to answer the puzzle about women and depression, we have dulled our senses to one of its great root causes. We are profoundly lonely. Could it be that if we women determined to spend less energy trying to find satisfaction in our careers or success for our kids and spent more time with loved ones that we might need less medication?
I believe that the answer is yes.
What do you think?