Depression is a global epidemic. It is the main driver behind suicide, which now claims more than a million lives per year worldwide. One in four Americans will suffer from clinical depression within their lifetimes, and the rate is increasing with every generation….
But depression is not a natural disease. It is not an inevitable part of being human. [Stephen] Ildari argues, like many diseases, depression is a disease of civilization. It’s a disease caused by a high-stress, industrialized, modern lifestyle that is incompatible with our genetic evolution.
Depression is the result of a prolonged stress-response, Ildari said. The brain’s “runaway stress response” – as he calls it – is similar to the fight or flight response, which evolved to help our ancestors when they faced predators or other physical dangers. The runaway stress response required intense physical activity for a few seconds, a few minutes, or – in extreme cases – a few hours.
“The problem is for many people throughout the Western world, the stress response goes on for weeks, months and even years at a time, and when it does that, it’s incredibly toxic,” Ildari said.
Living under continually stressful conditions – as many modern humans do – is disruptive to neuro-chemicals like dopamine and seratonin, which can lead to sleep disturbance, brain damage, immune dysregulation and inflammation, Ildari says….
In a study of 2000 Kaluli aborigines from Papua New Guinea, only one marginal case of clinical depression was found. Why? Because the Kaluli lifestyle is very similar to our hunter-gatherer ancestors’ lifestyle that lasted for nearly 2 million years before agriculture, Ildari said.
“99.9 percent of the human experience was lived in a hunter-gatherer context,” he added. “Most of the selection pressures that have sculpted and shaped our genomes are really well adapted for that environment and that lifestyle.”…
“There’s a profound mismatch between the genes we carry, the bodies and brains that they are building, and the world that we find ourselves in,” he said. “We were never designed for the sedentary, indoor, socially isolated, fast-food-laden, sleep-deprived frenzied pace of modern life.”…
Ildari says the results of exercise on depression are so powerful that if they could be reduced into a pill, it would be the most expensive pill on earth. The problem is 60 percent of American adults get no regular physical activity. Ildari says it’s not their fault. Between long days at work and household and family responsibilities to attend to, who has the time or energy to hit the gym?
The dirty little secret about exercise, Ildari says, is “it is not natural.” We are designed to be physically active “in the service of adapted goals,” not to exercise on a hamster wheel.
Hunter gatherers get four or more hours of vigorous physical activity every day, but if you ask them they will tell you they don’t exercise, Ildari says. “They don’t work out. Working out would be crazy to them. They live.”…
Walking for 30 minutes, three times a week, has better effects on depression than Zoloft, he said….
Another huge factor in modern depression is the lack of social connection in our modern nuclear-family bubbles. “Face-time with our loved ones puts the breaks on our stress response,” Ildari says.
The problem is we’ve replaced face-time with screen-time. “Our hunter gatherer ancestors spent all day every day in the company of their loved ones.”…
What Ildari didn’t mention in his Ted Talk is how difficult his cure is for most modern humans to attain. Sure, we’d all like more fresh air, sunlight, exercise, a better diet, better sleep, less monotonous work, and more interaction with loved ones, but who has time for all that?
I’m stuck here staring at my screen typing about it in an effort to make a living for myself, and many of you don’t even have time to read this article because you have 50+ hours-a-week jobs of your own. Meanwhile, immediate-return hunter-gatherers work an average of 17 hours a week. In this world, we certainly can’t just quit our jobs to be less stressed, when the financial stress would create more stress.
In my opinion, the answer lies in baby steps. Baby steps away from dependence on civilization, and toward nature, earth skills, and self-sustaining communal living….
I couldn’t agree more with all of this. Depression, like addiction, is merely a symptom of our disconnected, unnatural society.
The amazing technologies we’ve integrated into our society at breakneck speed have thrust us into living in a way that is incompatible with the structure of our brains. And the faster we integrate new technology, the more we can see the symptoms of this incompatibility manifest themselves all around us.
There is a good reason that concepts such as off-grid living, tiny houses, working from home, unschooling, living and traveling in an RV, etc. are so popular. We humans instinctively know that this society we’ve constructed is toxic to us. Not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. We crave human connection, time in nature, sleeping in on weekends, early retirement, simplicity, “the good old days”.
For awhile, we were so enamored with the novelty of our inventions that we were blinded to the greater harm being done by them. But we are waking up. We have this nagging feeling that something is just “not right”. Most of us can’t quite put our finger on it, but it’s there, nagging at you, calling to you, willing you to listen.
So what can we do? Like the article says, baby steps. We can’t just unplug everyone from our current social construct one day, there would be chaos. It must be done gradually. Community centers, community gardens, kindness toward our neighbors, exchanging goods and services with one another, caring for the sick, visiting the elderly, baking cookies for your mail carrier, stopping and chatting with someone on the street. We don’t have to accept this ill-fated society. We have the power the be the change we wish to see in this world (- Gandhi).