is Depression the disease of civilization?

This article will discuss the idea that depression is the disease of civilization. It will discuss the speech given on TedTalk by Stephen Ilardi, in which he discusses how depression has become an epidemic.

Depression is the disease of the civilization 

Depression may have become the disease of civilization. It is nowadays something that affects 5% of the world population, and it is constantly growing. Over the last 50 years, each generation has had a higher rate of depression than the one before.

Nowadays, one in each 5 Americans will experience depression at some point in their lifetime. And it has become clear that depression is an epidemic. But we are all still trying to understand why this keeps happening.

Depression is not just the sense of sadness that some people may think, it is one of the leading causes of disability. It is something that makes the person feel pain like they never have before. 

We know that the pain pathways of a person with depression are active, and this is what leads them to feel this constant rush of pain. Pain is so deep that they may consider ending their life rather than keep living like this. And that is why, along with the depression rate, the rate of suicide is also going up.

But what is up to question is why this keeps getting worse and worse. We are taking more antidepressants than any other generation before, but still, we are the ones that are getting depressed. To try and understand why this was happening, Stephen Ilardi set up a study group and later shared his findings on TedTalk.

He said he understands what is being said that depression can be related to multiple factors, genetics, environment, culture, and society, among others. But he offers a point of view that depression is, above all, a lifestyle condition, which makes it a disease of civilization. 

And it seems that the problem with the lifestyle we have nowadays is mostly connected to stress. And most of all, the way that our brain acts when it is under stress. What is called the fight-or-flight response? 

This is a response that was useful for humans when we were living for hunting, to help us deal with predators, and escape danger.

But nowadays, in the comfort of our homes, leaving a sedentary life in front of screens, we have very little need for this response. Still, we are constantly stressed, we are living a life that causes us to be constantly chasing something, the next job, more money, the next trendy phone. And we are spending less and less time in ways that will help us be less stressed.

Once you are constantly stressed, your brain will begin to feel its effect. Hormones will alter, such as a high level of cortisol. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine, and serotonin will go down. And this creates the perfect storm for depression. 

And it is not only that. Through time, it can cause the brain to have an inflammatory reaction, causing the depressive state to be even worse.

In reaching this conclusion, Stephen Ilardi set out to understand how we could handle stress differently. And for that, he went to read the research done by the anthropologist Edward Schieffelim, who lived for 10 years among Kulali people, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

He discovered that through interviewing 2000 people in that community, the anthropologist found only one possible cause of mental illness. Those people were still feeling sadness, still dealing with grief, they were capable of feeling every spectrum of emotion we are, but it seems they reacted to it differently.

From that, Stephen Ilardi went on to try and understand what was preventing them from getting depressed, and once again, the answer seemed to be the lifestyle. Reaffirming that depression is a disease of civilization once more.

From that, he went on to discuss that our body, as humans, hasn’t changed as much, evolutionary-wise, as our lifestyle has. And so, it may be that our bodies, and especially our brains, are not ready for the sort of life we have been living nowadays. 

We are not ready to be sitting in an office for 8 to 10 hours of our day. Sleeping as little as we do, eating as much processed food, as we do. We are equipped to deal with the isolation of this frenetic life we live. And this may be what is taking the toll on us nowadays.

And having in mind that this seems to be the problem, is the first path towards trying to deal with it. We need to learn how to live a life that is more balanced, in which we feel less stressed, and that we feel connected to a community. 

This is not saying that we won’t experience sadness anymore. Sadness, like any other form of the so-called negative emotions, is a part of our spectrum of emotions.

But it doesn’t seem okay to assume that the next generation will be even more depressed. At some point, there is a need to stop this machine and regroup. To that, Stephen Ilardi said he came up with a treatment plan for depression, by comparing how the Kuali people managed to avoid depression.

It is a simple one, which alters the person’s lifestyle. And he highlights that even though medication may still be a necessity, by changing something, you can feel a considerable improvement in your life. 

The first thing he talks about is exercising. He says that even though it is a fact that exercising is good for you, people are still not doing it. And it doesn’t take much. Half an hour, three times a week, a fast walk, that would be enough.

The second factor seems to be related to what we eat. And for that, he recommends Omega 3, which has a great function as an anti-inflammatory medication. And that will surely help your brain heal itself from the effects of stress.

Finally, he talks about the importance of social interactions. Remember once again that we were never born to live alone. But nowadays we are constantly changing face-to-face contact for screen time. 

And that may be happening at a high price. To stop this disease of civilization, it may be time for us to start thinking about how we can change civilization in itself.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Is depression the disease of civilization? 

What are the main causes of depression?

Multiple things can cause a person to become depressed. It can happen because they are dealing with a stressful event, which may be asking too much of you emotionally. It can also be related to a personality factor, which means that some people may be more susceptible to depression than others.

People will also get depressed more often depending on their family history since there seems to be a genetic predisposition for the condition as well. Other life events can also make it easier for a person to become depressed, such as giving birth since they may go through a great deal of hormonal change.

In the same way, going through an illness, of themselves, or even of their loved ones can make it easier for one to get depressed. Feeling lonely is also something that can often lead people to feel depressed.

What is depression?

In clinical terms, depression is a mental health condition that causes a person to feel intense sadness. It also leads them to lose interest in things, even the ones they used to love. The condition will also lead you to feel less energetic, and begin to feel more fatigued.

Depression causes the person to feel empty, and as if they have lost their purpose. It will make them more irritable, and isolated. Leading them to feel guilty. The self-esteem and sense of self-worth of a person with depression will go down, and their eating and sleeping patterns will change.

Aside from that, the cognitive functions of people going through depression will decrease, so they can have trouble focusing, and with their memory. They may also experience crying spells and may have thoughts of self-harm, and even death, and suicide.

What are the forms of depression? 

Depression can happen in four different forms, it can be mild, moderate, major, and even persistent. In the first one, as the name says, the person’s symptoms will be mild, and won’t go on for a long time, which can make it harder to be diagnosed. But to treat mild depression, the person will often only need to change some lifestyle habits.

Moderate depression will be one in which the person will experience the effects of the condition in their life. They will also go on for longer. To treat moderate depression people will often need to go to therapy, and in some cases, people may need medication.

Major depression, which is also known as clinical depression, will be the most intense form of depression. It will make it harder for the person to do the simplest things such as getting out of bed. And aside from the common depressive symptoms, the person with major depression can also experience hallucinations, and even become delusional.

To treat major depression, the person will need to go to therapy, and also take medication. The same is true for people that have persistent depression, which can last as long as 5 years. During that time the person will experience swings between mild and major episodes.

What are ways to cope with depression? 

Most people will benefit from professional treatment when they are depressed. This means they should go to therapy to help them deal with their emotions, and sometimes even take medication to help them manage the depressive symptoms.

Aside from that, people will also benefit from some lifestyle changes. And caring for their eating and sleeping can often help with their energy levels. Exercising will also have a positive impact on your mood and overall sense of well-being.

Aside from that, being around people that care for you, and show you support can also make a difference. It will not only allow you to distract yourself, but also to feel supported.

Doing things that bring you some positive emotions, such as volunteering, or a new hobby can also be important since it will not only keep you active but also give you a sense of accomplishment.

Will medication work in the same way with everyone?

No, medication will always work differently from one person to the next. That is why it is so important to be followed by a mental health professional.


This article focused on discussing if depression is a disease of civilization. It explained why, based on the TedTalk speech given. By Stephen Ilardi. 

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to write them in the section below.


Depression is a Disease of Civilization by Stephen Ilardi (Transcript)

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