Despite having great jobs, fantastic husbands and lovely children, even so, an increasing number of middle-aged women, who on the face of it have never had it better, are struggling with depression.
Last week, two high-profile female columnists of a newspaper wrote movingly of their struggles with depression.
Allison Pearson, a mother of two and author of the 2002 bestseller ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’, revealed seeking help after waking at 4:00 a. m. every morning for the past 18 months, contemplating the agony of her existence. As she told a psychiatrist, she thought it would be easier not to exist for a while.
Bestselling novelist Marian Keyes revealed she suffers from a crippling depression that has left her unable to write. She says she couldn’t eat, sleep, write, read or talk to people, and didn’t know when she would emerge from the darkness.
While, Emma Thompson spoke about how she suffered after the break up of her marriage to Kenneth Branagh, when she went into deep depression, saying she didn’t think she had stayed sane, and should have sought professional help to escape the critical voices in her head.
Earlier in the week, Liz Jones wrote about finally seeking professional help after a lifetime of self-hatred.
These, join many other outwardly successful women who have spoken candidly about their depression.
One in four people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year
As numerous studies confirm, depression is a huge problem for women in the Western world, with a quarter likely to experience it at some point. People are ten times more likely to suffer from it now than in 1945, with women and teenage girls twice as susceptible as men.
If, it continues to grow at its current rate, it will be the most disabling condition in the world by 2020, second only to heart disease.
So why is a generation who enjoys more freedom, opportunity and independence than their mothers or grandmothers, seem so unhappy?
Is it due to chemical imbalance in the brain, or are we too quick in diagnosing a psychiatric medical condition, Thomas Kempis, a 14th century monk called ‘the proper sorrows of the soul’?
Allison Pearson seems right in asking the question: ‘Is it women who are mad, or is it the society we live in?’
Our culture favours the idea that depression is a chemical problem in the brain requiring a chemical solution, the quick-fix solution of anti-depressants (Britain spent £330 million on them last year) and/or short-term cognitive behavioural therapy.
While, anti-depressants are useful in helping a sufferer function again, the idea that depression is all about unlucky genes and low serotonin levels is just one small part of the story.
The fact is there has been a massive change in the lives of women during the past 50 years, with some mental health experts arguing high expectations is the cause of our depression.
This is not to be interpreted as a criticism of individual women, though it often is, rather, it is a criticism of a culture that inflicts conflicting messages on women, as how to reach that unachievable Holy Grail.
For example: If, only we could get that amazing job and excel at it. If, only we could be the best, most wonderful mother. If, only we could find a partner who is gorgeous, fit, clever, witty and loaded. If, only we could starve ourselves and look like Cheryl Cole. If, only we could get a bigger house and car. If, only we could be perfect. Then we’d be happy.
Even while, rationally we know it to be insane, these messages have seeped into our collective unconscious, wreaking havoc with our mental health.
Depression, may be triggered by hormonal imbalances in the brain, however, it is also compounded by our lifestyle, of a generation trying to do far too much.
Instead, of doing a double shift, we are doing more like a quadruple shift, and at the same time, women are told to be strong, independent, self-sufficient. Which means, suffering in silence and with this kind of pressure, many of them end up depressed.
The other problem is our consumer culture, with other experts believing the erosion of social bonds over the past few decades, has had a detrimental impact on women.
We have become a far more isolated and lonely society than we were 50 years ago, with more people living alone, with one-third of all households occupied by only one person.
Technology has made us so self-sufficient, we have no practical need for our neighbours, despite humans being hardwired to connect with others.
Even though, our grandmothers and mothers may have had physically tougher lives, they supported each other far more than the intensely competitive women of today. A trend that needs to be reversed, including stopping thinking of depression as a primarily chemical problem that requires a chemical solution.