I’m all about a good perspective shifting article. This one comes to you via a road trip I took to the Grand Canyon. During the long, 14-hour excursion, my driving companion and I listened to a book recommended to me by a therapist friend. This books rocked my word. It’s called Tribe by Sebastian Junger.
I’ve suffered from depression throughout my life. Bouts of severe emptiness would come and go at what seemed like random times, yet I never considered the cause or what factors triggered the sadness.
When I finally started seeing a therapist and began making sense of my past, it occurred to me that when I was most isolated, I had my worst instances of depression.
I remember becoming morbidly dark in middle school when my group of friends all decided to stop talking to me. I thought it wasn’t a big deal; I was tougher than to let that incident get to me. Yet I felt inexplicably sad. Coincidental? My pre-pubescent self clearly didn’t think so.
Then I dated a guy in college. He was extremely controlling, and this behavior caused me to isolate myself from my friends. The depression ensued, and I was none the wiser.
The most memorable, though, is when I traveled the world for two years. It’s easy to think that travel brings joy, happiness, and life-altering experiences. Travel most certainly does — but it also brings isolation and loneliness, which no one talks about, but maybe more people should.
So when I began my journey into the audiobook version of Sebastian Junger’s Tribe, I was thoroughly interested in the concepts he brought to light. While I don’t think his reversion back to the tribal communities he refers to is the end-all answer, unless you’re a heterosexual white male, his theories got me thinking about how important it is to have a solid group of people who care about you.
Before I go any further, for those of you that have read Tribe, I don’t want to gloss over the theme, and reason, for Junger writing this book. His work dives deeply into our soldier’s return home after war and the isolation felt, which he believes is the cause of such high PTSD-related suicides. If this subject at all interests you, even more reason to read his accounts.
The human’s need for connection
I still remember the day in psychology class where our teacher explained Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with the evenly divided sections on a pyramid. Aside from the necessities-to-live such as nutrition, water, etc., Maslow believed that people needed a feeling of safety before they could feel loved.
I argue that to be wrong. A sense of community and belonging can get people through wartime and a life of poverty. Not only do people make it through these perilous times, they’re, as we would see it, oddly happy.
Junger described the intoxicating feeling of connection amongst soldiers in his unit; an effect so visceral that it would greatly outweigh any fear from their dangerous surroundings.
In the book Blue Zones, author Dan Buettner studies the most densely populated areas of centenarians, people who live to over 100. A common thread amongst the people is two things: the first being that they are sometimes in the poorest of areas in their countries and the other is their sense of being needed.
Could that feeling of purpose within their community be a cause for their longer-than-average lifespan? I would argue it’s at least a contributing factor.
Wealth Leads to Individualism
Is there really any argument needed to be made that, the more money one has, the more secluded their life tends to be? The average person of wealth partakes in materialistic lifestyle habits. From a house with more rooms than occupants to eating pre-prepared meals instead of enjoying meals with their community, a luxurious life tends to be one of less human interaction.
When you’re able to pay for services, you need less from your community. I work as a nanny, and I find it startling how few neighbors the family I work for knows. When I was growing up, I could name every family in my neighborhood. Maybe that’s a product of modern technology keeping people in their homes, but, again, money is required to purchase technology.
In lower-income communities, nannies aren’t an option. Eating out tends to be an occasion reserved for celebrating. One can’t just call up a handyman to fix something; they rely heavily on their family and community.
Isolation Can Lead to Depression
Studies on the correlation between modernized societies and mood disorders are plenty.
A 2006 study showed that women in modernized areas are at higher risk for depression. The correlation between a country’s GDP and risk of an individual developing a mood disorder was made apparent by a 2012 review.
The opposite can prove to be true as well; during times when people come together, depression level decreases. Researchers found that mental illness and depression decreased when civilians came together during times of war. People come together for the greater good and are even cited to be nostalgic for wartime sense of community. The city of London experienced this phenomenon during the Second World War.
It would be quite interesting — given everything going on today in America — to see what would happen if war encroached upon our land. If socioeconomic statuses were put aside and we all were forced to come together for the greater good. Contrary to how it went down in London, I don’t see that happening in the United States.
Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t picture the elite money-makers living in the Hollywood Hills opening their doors to the Angeleno natives of East LA. Distance aside, the result of such an attempt would be utter chaos. I genuinely believe that people would become even more secluded.
That’s madness. We live in a time where our money has given us so much freedom yet we choose to seclude ourselves.