Scientific studies historically connect depression to a biological origin with genetic ties. Millions of chemical reactions experience imbalances within the brain. In addition, "nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and the functioning of nerve circuits'' also have been found to have a major impact on depression. MRI scans have revealed specific regions of the brain impact mood stabilization like the hippocampus. This region appears smaller in individuals who suffer from depression. Treatment for depression seeks to help individuals improve their brain's ability to regulate mood. Various pharmaceutical medications can be prescribed to encourage this.
Global public health metrics rank the U.S. as the third most depressed country in the world. About 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience a level of mental illness a year (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Increasing rates of depression among people in "developed" nations with globally competitive economies is far from coincidental. Mental illness is often thought of as solely a chemical or nerve issue in our culture. This however cannot be the sole causation to offer sufficient explanation for the astronomical increases in mental illness within westernized countries. The rise in mental Illness like depression then, can be very explicitly connected to the prevailing economic model that these countries have enriched themselves under. Capitalist economies create structural environments of income inequality, and rugged individualism. They create a system with the labor force at its center that assigns value based on the productivity of the laborer.
Personal responsibility, a leg of individualism, has become one of the major cultural values in American society. The ability for any person to create the life he or she desires from the sweat of their own brow has long been a symbol of American exceptionalism. The success or position of one's life is wholly dependent on the actions of the individual and no other entity should bear responsibility for the outcome of that life. This is far from the truth. Rather, Western society imposes this individualistic mentality on its people who suffer from income inequality, food scarcity, houselessness, and lack of health care not due to any fault of their own, but to a structural and legislative choice that is necessitated by the state. People living in westernized countries live in a constant state of survival caused by the effects of industrialized economies outside of their own control while being socialized to see themselves as the arbiter of their own fate and wellbeing. Mental illness reveals itself between people at the intersection of this contradiction.
Feelings of hopelessness for prolonged periods alter the brain's mood stabilization abilities. Those dealing with food insecurity and houselessness are the most likely to be clinically diagnosed with depression. From there, those without healthcare, access to education, and the unemployed follow. If there are millions in the U.S. that are suffering from these conditions, it is not a problem of unfulfilled personal responsibility, but a problem of economic interest, profit, and imperialism that takes precedence over the people.
Depression and mental illness in its totality is not a sign of individual inadequacy, or of being unequipped to handle the turbulence of daily life. It is a response to an economic reality that is scientifically antithetical to the health of the human mind. Responsibility for dramatic increases in depression rates in the U.S. should be levied on the state.
Mark Fisher, in his book Capitalist Realism, discusses the nature of depression in modern society very clearly. This excerpt from the book concisely synthesizes how not curing mental illness is incentivized within our society:
"Considering mental illness an individual chemico-biological problem has enormous benefits for capitalism. First, it reinforces Capital's drive towards atomistic individualization (you are sick because of your brain chemistry). Second, it provides an enormously lucrative market in which multinational pharmaceutical companies can peddle their pharmaceuticals (we can cure you with our SSRIs). It goes without saying that all mental illnesses are neurologically instantiated, but this says nothing about their causation. If it is true, for instance, that depression is constituted by low serotonin levels, what still needs to be explained is why particular individuals have low levels of serotonin. This requires a social and political explanation; and the task of politicizing mental illness is an urgent one."
We must change the conversation regarding mental illness among people as not just a personal battle, but a larger societal problem, with levels of causation pointing directly toward the systems that our culture props up.