Let me start of by saying I’ve done no research, and that I’m speaking from experience and opinions only. That being said, I believe that the complications and pace of most of our lives has contributed greatly to the incidence of mental illness in general, and specifically bipolar and ADHD. Of course, the increase in population also statistically increases the number of mentally ill.
I’m old enough to remember a much simpler time. A time before cell phones and computers, the internet and mass media overload. And thinking back on that time, we just didn’t seem to have that many people who were obviously ill. In my hometown, out of a population of maybe 5,000, there were of course a few ‘eccentrics’, (which today would be classified as a mental illness), but there were only a very few who were commonly known to be ill. Some of that I’m sure was cultural. Mental illness was not something to be admitted or talked about. A similar comparison in my town, there was only one openly gay man. (NOT that it would be considered a mental illness of course, just a different lifestyle that was considered taboo at the time). There were also very few mental health professionals. My town had none, hand there were only a handful in the nearest big town.
Today, it seems like we are overwhelmed with the number of mentally ill people. There are now many mental hospitals, public clinics, and hundreds of therapists and Psychiatrists. Even with the increase of population, the percentage of people being treated for mental illness has to be significantly higher.
There are a few reasons in my opinion that this has happened. The first is the acceptance in general of all types of mental illness. There is an openness that is just didn’t exist 40 years ago. That would account for the apparent increase in the percentage of ill people per capita. The number of people sick didn’t actually increase; there is just better information available. The second reason I believe is a tendency for mental health care providers to be too quick to diagnose someone as mentally ill. Certain illnesses seem to come into vogue and all of a suddenly it seems like everyone you know is directly or indirectly affected by the illness de jour. Bipolar is certainly one of them, but none more at the present time than Attention Deficient and Hyperactivity Disorder. Then there is the overwhelming stimulation that we are now exposed to. Everywhere we turn we are bombarded by information. As a kid, we had a half an hour new show once a day, and none on the weekend. Now of course there are many round the clock new stations blaring out all the catastrophes (real or contrived) happening all over the world. Leisurely trips to the library for entertainment or research have been replaced with Kindles and Wikipedia. And we also can do research using Google and Ask.com and Chrome and Firefox and on and on. Instead of the two television channels (three if the wind was blowing just right) we now have thousands, all blaring sound bites and targeted advertising and I’m certain, subliminal messaging. Children entertaining themselves through imagination has been replaced with video games that are so lifelike that it’s difficult to separate from reality. No wonder there’s so much ADHD diagnoses. But is it really ADHD? Or is it just sensory overload? To a certain extent, the apparent rise in bipolar diagnoses can also be explained by the over complications and information explosion. Over stimulation can produce a feeling of mania, and what might appear to be depression could just be a temporary escape from the constant bombardment we are all exposed to. Not to mention all the medication commercials and talk shows and news reports that tell you over and over again that you’re sick and need help. But again, is it really just mental illness? Or perhaps it’s a new category of illness that is specific to today’s environment.
Regardless of the cause, or the actual rise in incidence in people affected by mental illness, I believe that we were all better of when things were simpler. We may not have had the benefits of microwaved meals in minutes, or instant communication with cell phones and texting, or any of the conveniences’ that have become necessities. But life was slow and simple. It’s easy for me to believe that mental illness is significantly more prevalent than ever. Increase in pressures, stress and overloaded senses are bound to impact emotional health. Not that it takes away from those who suffer from the mental illness of today; the illnesses are just as real and can be debilitating as they’ve always been. But the number of people considered to have mental issues has to be higher than ever before.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to return some calls and text my daughter and read the news and look up my medication side effects while my breakfast is heating up in the microwave.