Why Is There So Much Depression Today? The Waxing of the Individual and the Waning of the Commons

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Abstract

The story that follows comes in three parts. First I will argue that there is, literally, an epidemic of depression today. Something has happened, roughly since world War II in America, so that depression is about ten times as common as it used to be. There are four independent lines of evidence suggesting that this is so. I will detail two well-done, large scale studies showing that the lifetime prevalence of depression in young people now exceeds by roughly a factor of ten the prevalence in young people 50 years ago. I will then look at two contemporary peoples who do not live in modern culture — the Kaluli of New Guinea and the Old Order Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Neither of these pre-modern cultures has depression at anything like the prevalence we do.