“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Depression Cure.

If there is one branch of literature that I avoid more than Jeffery Archer's novels it's American self help manuals. The latest one to hit the bookstores and receive some media attention is The Depression Cure by Steve IIardi. There is a good overview of Ilardi's ideas here but in essence what he is saying is that depression is almost unheard of in hunter-gatherer societies and that as a step toward reducing the epidemic of depression in our own post-industrial world we should look toward introducing some of the elements of hunter-gatherer culture into our own lives. Tribal societies have always interested me and it was this emphasis on our hunter gatherer ancestors that caught my attention.
Much of what Ilardi is proposing makes sense. Plenty of fresh air, exercise and sunlight are good for us all and social interaction must surely be better for depression than isolation.I'm less sure about the fish oil supplements; didn't Ben Goldacre expose the paucity of real evidence for the benefits of fish oil not long ago?
What concerns me about self-help books is not so much that they urge us to take control of our own lives, I'm all in favour of that, but rather the implication that it is all down to us. The role of society never gets a look in. Many people are depressed, not because of a lack of exercise and Omega 3 but due to the feelings of utter helplessness regarding their situation. The hunter-gatherer world was a fascinating one but it might be as well to consider the truly appalling levels of alcoholism, depression and suicide found in the people who most recently lived in hunter-gatherer societies; Native Americans, Aborigines and Bushmen. For all my misgivings Ilardi may be on to something here. It's just that it seems to me that to talk of mental health in terms of simple quick fixes of any description and without reference to society as a whole, is to do a disservice to the millions who suffer debilitating mental illness.

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