The mental illness proliferation has been exacerbated by social media, marketing and – oddly enough – higher living standards.
1. Living better leads to feeling worse
It is no coincidence that the highest levels of suicide take place in the happiest, most well-developed countries. Finland ranks 33rd, Iceland comes in at 35th, and the U.S. at 50th. In America, Utah ranks number one among states in life satisfaction but has the ninth highest suicide rate. In contrast, New York places forty-fifth in life satisfaction but has the country’s lowest suicide rate. David Lester, a suicidologist was featured on a Freakonomics podcast and discussed this theory:
“If your quality of life is poor, and it may be you’re unemployed, you’re an oppressed minority, whatever it might be, there’s a civil war going on, you know why you’re miserable. You know the quality of life in a nation gets better and you are still depressed — well, why? Everybody else is enjoying themselves, getting good jobs, getting promotions. Why are you still miserable? There’s no external cause to blame your misery upon, which means it’s more likely that you see it as some defect or stable trait in yourself. And therefore you’re going to be depressed and unhappy for the rest of your life.”
2. Polished and constructed, social media reality is not realistic
Social media is another one of the main culprits behind the mental health epidemic. In, say, the 1950s, our traditional “immediate surroundings” – as Stouffer puts it – were our friends, our family, maybe a few of our acquaintances. The introduction and omnipresence of social media have done two things.
Firstly, it has made everyone our immediate surroundings. An average Facebook user has hundreds of “friends” that they see every day on their newsfeed. The modern scope of comparison is significantly greater.
Secondly, we only see what people want to post. A newsfeed is devoid of the monotony of everyday life. It is the highlight of people’s days, weeks and months. This gives individuals a spurious sense of reality, heightening dissatisfaction with their own, seemingly boring lives.
Indeed, recent studies have shown that overuse of sites like Facebook can lead to depression, low self-esteem, and feelings of jealousy.
3. Marketing also comes into play
A typical American is exposed to 5,000 advertisements a day, a more than 150% increase from 30 years ago. The ubiquity of these ads functions to normalize the splendor and extravagance. The idyllic life portraits and handpicked models we are incessantly assaulted with are registered by our subconscious. After a while, we’re unimpressed and indifferent towards it all. And when we are unimpressed by the 2.0 Version of Life, we become apathetic towards our own.
However, apathy is not the same as mental illness. The former is an emotion while the latter is a certified, debilitating illness. However, I do believe there is an overlap between the two.
Higher living standards, social media use and exposure to unrealistic marketing may not trigger mental illness by themselves. But they do inadvertently devalue our lives and foster feelings of apathy, worthlessness and guilt. There may not be a causal relationship, but there could be a correlative link.
Indeed, the paradox of well-being is a mind-boggling phenomenon. In my opinion, widespread social media use, manipulative marketing, and higher living standards have indirectly spawned a crop of people who are increasingly dissatisfied with their lives.