If moving to the US tends to put people at risk for psychological
afflictions, clearly a strange cultural malaise is at work. And
the problem appears to be getting worse.
Social epidemiologist Myrna Weissman at Columbia University, along
with a lengthy list of collaborators, has explored this question
in detail, looking at the US as well as other countries. Reporting
in 1992 and 1996 in JAMA the Journal of the American Medical
Association Weissman and colleagues found that more and
more Americans are becoming depressed, they are getting depressed
at a younger age, and the severity and frequency of depression
These results are neither small nor spurious. Each generation
born in the twentieth century has suffered more depression than
the previous one and since WWII, the overall rate of depression
has more than doubled. A more recent study, published in the Archives
of General Psychiatry in 2000 and conducted by another team of
researchers, showed more than a doubling of depression in women
from 1970 to 1992. Psychiatric drug use has skyrocketed as a result.
American schoolchildren today are taking four times as many psychiatric
meds as all of the rest of the world combined.
Whats going on? The commonly sold narrative is that every
instance of the blues, and certainly every case of clinical depression,
is the result of some in-born biochemical imbalance treatable
only by serotonin drugs like Prozac. Yet these studies make it
clear that something larger is at play. If your brain is indeed
out of balance, the source of the trouble may very well reside
in your cultural environment, not in your genes.