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.
It robs people of sleep, energy, focus, memory, sex drive and their basic ability to experience the pleasures of life, says author of The Depression Cure Stephen Ilardi. It can destroy people’s desire to love, work, play and even their will to live. If left unchecked it can cause permanent brain damage.
Depression lights up the pain circuitry of the brain to such an extent that many of Ildari’s psychiatric patients have called it torment, agony and torture. “Many begin to look to death as a welcome means of escape,” he said in a Ted Talks presentation.
But depression is not a natural disease. It is not an inevitable part of being human. 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,”
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.
Civilization is the disease
Epidemiologists have now identified a long list of other stress-related diseases as “diseases of civilization” – diabetes, atherosclerosis, asthma, allergies, obesity and cancer. These diseases are rampant throughout the developed world, but virtually non-existent among modern-day aboriginal peoples.
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.”
In view of nearly 3 million years of hominid existence, since homo habilis first began use of stone tools, our genus has undergone rapid environmental change since the advent of agriculture about 12,000 years ago. And in the last 200 years, since the industrial revolution, our species has had to cope with what Ildari calls “radical environmental mutation.”
While our environment has radically mutated, our human genome is essentially the same as it was 200 years ago, Ildari says. “That’s only eight generations. It’s not enough time [for significant genetic adaptations].”
“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.” [signupbanner]
Though he’s not entirely opposed to medication, Ildari says we can throw all the drugs in the world at the depression epidemic, and it won’t make a dent.
Anti depressant use has gone up 300 percent in the last 20 years, but the rate of depression has continued to increase. One in nine Americans over age 12 is currently taking an antidepressant, and one in five have been on them at some point.
The answer, Ildari says, is a change in lifestyle. He says the results of his six step program have exceeded his wildest dreams:
2. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
4. Healthy Sleep
5. Anti-ruminative activity
6. Social connection
In his presentation, he emphasized the importance of exercise and social connection, as they are two of the hardest parts of the program for modern Americans.
Exercise is ‘not natural’
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.”
“When you put a lab rat on a treadmill … it will squat down on it’s haunches, and the treadmill starts to rub the fur and the skin right off it’s back side,” he said. “When you stare at a piece of exercise equipment, there is a part of your brain that’s screaming out ‘Don’t do it! You’re not going anywhere!’”
If you can’t go out gathering your own nuts and berries or hunting your own meat, Ildari recommends brisk walking with a friend. 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.
Unfortunately illness, including mental illness, triggers people to isolate themselves, which only makes depression worse.
“Resist the urge to withdraw,” Ildari says, “because when you’re ill, your body tells you to shut down and pull away. When you have the flu, that’s adaptive. When you have depression, it’s the worst thing in the world you could do.”
Rewilding and Tribal Living
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. These are things I plan to learn more about while building this website. I’m excited to share what I learn with you, and hope you’ll share your knowledge with me.
In 2017 after 28 years as a Xerox field tech and 30 years in a loveless marriage with a wife that threatened suicide once a week I had finally had it. I was sitting in the backyard with a gun in my hand ready to take away my misery. Someone called the cops and I was taken to a lock down behavioral health center. I retired and got divorced, two of my main stressors gone. I have a peaceful life but still get bouts of depression. After reading this article I think I now have a plan. Short walks, easy bike rides, getting out and meeting people, looking up forgotten friends. Wish me luck.
I very much enjoyed reading the article. I certainly agree with most of the tenants outlined and especially the recommendations for combatting mental illness. I do think it may be a bit simplistic, though, to hearten back to the “hunter/gatherer” age and assign some sort of blissful, happy, healthy moniker to it. That generation had its own stress. It took all of their effort to find enough food to subsist for them and their family. Their water sources were not clean, many died of infection or illness. We live far longer now than they did then. How grateful I am to live in a time of such health and prosperity. We have so much knowledge at our fingertips and more free time than ever before. Just me reading and responding to this article is proof of that. I would have been milking a cow in the early morning hours of the day but a machine does that for me now. Our challenge lies in how we respond to these great blessings. Will we grow lazy and more insular or push ourselves to be physically active and reach out to make personal connections when it is not required of us to merely subsist and survive? Thanks for letting me share.
First I would like to thank you for this very important article. It made a lot of sense to me. I agree with most of what you say but then you spoil it by complaining that you cannot take on board what you published in your article. Is that not defeating the purpose of what you have written? Walk the talk. Your health is your wealth especially your mental health! Your work can wait 15 minutes to half an hour. If you work freelance you are your own boss. Your sanity deserves a walk in natural light. Look after yourself, your last paragraph revealed a lot more about you than the whole article. I have lived with chronic depression all my life and I know how debilitating it can be. Yes I hid, yes I felt suicidal in the past but I am a survivor and it has taken me a long time to heal. Art and embroidery are my saviour and I thank the Universe for the talents she has bestowed upon me. Make time for yourself because if you neglect your mental and physical health…do yourself a favour; listen and pay heed to the messages your body is sending you please.
Depression is natural. In my opinion we have lost connection with ourselves to such a great extent that many of us don’t know who we are or how we feel much of the time .Depression is part of a natural cycle that most of us go through during our lives. The real problem here is that we are so far into our intellect we think that it is who we are, and we make our decisions based on rationale, thank you Descartes.
Nowadays, as opposed to not that long ago, everything that puts us inside ourselves is negatively labeled and judged, as our egos and intellect are wont to do. Feeling down is labeled as “bad” and feeling up is “good”. If someone gets depressed, people nowadays tends to judge themselves as ” there is something wrong with me.”
They look at all the people around them, and see themselves as “less than”. This starts a downward spiral. The people around them seem perfectly fine, when in truth many are putting on an act themselves. Because there is so much denied depression in Western Culture, for many it becomes a vibe that takes extraordinary measures to overcome and adds to the depression they already feel.
For folks whose depression is not pathological, biological or genetic, the cure is not to fight it but to go into it with great respect and love for yourself as well as the support of a community of people who love you as you really are. If you hate yourself, you will probably have to learn to love yourself first. Some people will need the expertise of a good therapist and wisely prescribed drugs. All of this can take years if the depression is deep enough.
See, that’s the problem- everybody wants the quick fix. There is a lot of truth in the saying that most people’s problems stem from trading what they want long term for what they want short term. A great book on the subject of dealing with depression is “Care of the Soul” by Thomas Moore.
How long will it take humans to adapt to our stressful lifestyle ?
Its so easy to get stuck in a rut.
I have a family that doesn’t belive in depression That causes them to be mean to me
Very interesting, makes sense.
This is right on! I have been plagued with two life altering bouts of depression. Even my doctors realize my depression is pharmaceutically resistant. And, as I am currently emerging I am determined to implement the steps set out here. Exercise pulled me out of my last bout and I am determined to build my emerging new routine around exercise and recreation.
I appreciate your writing this and agree 100%. Another aspect is our connection to the earth. “Digging in the dirt” so to speak is sorely missing in this time we live in.
Its true in what is said we all work.to hard drink to.much. no time for yourself and family .the internet is great but we spend to much time on it .you don’t see kids out playing anymore and if you do it’s very seldom.
Makes so much sense..thanx?✌❤❄⛄??
Is there confusion about being sad and being depressed…two different things…I often see teens labelled as depressed and the ist line of treatment is medication…often not offered counselling or no discussing on a holistic lifestyle and their disconnect to nature. Also feel we are not role modelling to kids about giving back and helping them to give rather than take…simple strategies that helps to focus off self while actually helping others can be therapeutic.
Wonderful book entitled ‘creating optimism ‘ covers a very great deal of this insight . Recommended .
This is not new info, but I really like the reminder and hope to read more. Right now im.laying in a hospital bed after just getting my gallbladder out. It’s a big red flag for me, and how I want my lifestyle to look going forward.
there is a simple cure for depression using the SUNSHINE HORMONE vitamin D3 and magnesium to prevent anxiety attacks which docvetails quite nicely with this great article…the link for the protocol is here>>
I think the 5 or 6 advice notes are right. Depending on pharmaceuticals is ludicrous and narrow minded. I don’t want to completely blot out drugs as a possible crutch in the process of employing your 6 “to do” list for feeling healthy
All of the above is great, but one huge factor in depression the author is missing is the link between microwave frequency electromagnetic fields and neuropsychiatric conditions. In plain speak, cell phone use causes changes in the brain known to be linked to depression. Google “Microwave frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) produce widespread neuropsychiatric effects including depression”
(Pall, 2016) or find it here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0891061815000599 It’s a great resource because Pall also lists numerous studies showing biological effects from wireless radiation exposure. Worth a look.
Bottom line, one big reason less industrialized countries have lower rates of depression is they do not have as many electrical devices, wireless appliances and cell phones.
What I find quite effective to maintain my mind healthy and bring my energy up when I feel a bit depressed is to clean my rooms. If you get to do it seriously with devotion and a sence of improving your living environment in terms of cleanness, desigh, and comfortablity, you really have to work hard but eventually you will find yourself more fresh and energitic with positive feeling about the moment you live. And this environment that you created for yourself will sustain you in good feeling and organize your mind and attitude. Maybe this way of thinking has lot to do with Zen way, which is experienced in our daily life in Japan. It won’t cost a penny and you can arbitrary chosehow long you want to put in this simple activity. Hope you try and feel the air of it!
This would immediately rid me of my depression and anxiety:
Watch ‘Zeitgeist Moving Forward’ on Youtube for details on why the world is as it is and the solution.
A better world IS possible, but it’s up to us.