By Stephen Ilardi, PhD, Experience Life
According to the latest research, about one in four Americans — more than 70 million people — will meet the criteria for major depression at some point in their lives. The rate of depression in industrialized societies has been on the rise for decades — it’s roughly 10 times higher today than it was just two generations ago.
How can you make sense of the fact that even though antidepressant use has skyrocketed in recent years, the rate of depression in the United States hasn’t declined, but rather increased?
As a clinical psychologist, I believe the answer is rooted in our way of life. I say this because researchers have assessed modern-day hunter-gatherer bands — such as the Kaluli people of the New Guinea highlands — for the presence of mental illness, and they found that clinical depression is almost completely nonexistent among such groups.
Despite being much more likely to experience tragic events like the death of a child or a crippling illness, and living with none of the material comforts or medical advances we take for granted, they’re largely immune to the plague of depressive illness.
But how are hunter-gatherers able to weather life’s storms so effectively? Based on the available research, it seems that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle is profoundly antidepressant. As they go about their daily lives, they naturally wind up doing things that keep them from getting depressed, things that change the brain more powerfully than any medication.
My colleagues and I at the University of Kansas have developed a treatment called “Therapeutic Lifestyle Change,” or TLC. It incorporates six major protective lifestyle elements we need to reclaim from our ancestors: dietary omega-3 fatty acids, mentally engaging activity, physical exercise, sunlight exposure, social support and adequate sleep.
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