We live in an amazing world!
The technological advances in the last 50 years are mind blowing. Advances in medicine have raised our level of care to incredible heights. Our world has become a very small place with all the new ways of communication. The internet has expanded our entertainment, knowledge, connections and research beyond belief.
It’s all good, right?
I grew up in a much simpler time. We had no cell phones, no microwave ovens, no video games, and no computers. Our home telephone (we only had one) was directly hardwired into the wall. And ours was exactly like everyone else’s; a black rotary. We didn’t have a color TV until I was in my teens, and only had three stations to choose from. And for a remote we had…..me. Dad would send me to the TV when he wanted a different channel, or adjust the aluminum foil on the rabbit ears for better reception.
I heard a commercial on the radio the other day that claimed our kids were going more places by themselves than ever before, and as such needed their own debit card that could be monitored by their parents. Really? That’s not how I remember it. Even at 6 years old we would leave the house at daylight, and not come home until the streetlights came on. Our parents kept in touch with us by ringing a big farm bell in the backyard when they needed us to come home, or if we stayed out too late. When I got a little older, I would ride my bike for hours, traveling 20 miles or more and even riding into other towns. I didn’t wear a helmet either. We would spend our Saturday mornings watching cartoons (REAL Cartoons that didn’t require any foreign language knowledge), but that was about it. The rest of the time we were entertaining ourselves. One summer for example I bought a mini bike motor at a yard sale for $1. (If anyone has a clue as to what a minibike is. Look it up. The internet is amazing for things like that). I spent weeks taking it completely apart, then putting it back together again. And when it was reassembled, it worked! And that experience taught me about how internal combustion engines really worked, and even with the computerized high tech motors of today, the basics remain the same. We had our own innovations too. Does anyone remember the Mazda Rotary engine? I will be happy to explain how that worked if you’re interested.
Divorce was practically unheard of. I can count on one hand (With fingers left over) the number of friends I had being raised by a single parent. I doubt that marriages were any happier across the board, but the commitments were real. It was so unusual that kids came home to an empty house we actually had a name for them. They were called latchkey kids. And the neighborhood Moms all knew who they were and kept an eye out on them to make sure they were okay.
So how does this relate to a Bipolar blog?
Over the years it seems that mental illnesses have become more and more prevalent. Kids are being diagnosed with ADHD at an almost epidemic rate. Everyone I know knows someone who is ‘bipolar’. Mental institutions have a chronic shortage of beds for inpatient treatment. Everyplace I’ve worked in the last 10 years has had someone (Besides myself) out for an extended period of time due to mental issues. Why is that? Part of it is just plain math. The “Metropolitan” area I grew up in has gone from 65,000 people to over a million. If 1% of the population suffers from mental illness, it would have gone from 650 people to 10,000. But I think the percentages are growing too. And it would stand to reason. Our kids are so over stimulated with all the video games and internet, cell phones and texting, and social media and more. Our lives have become so hectic and stressful, being pressured from all sides. Our economy and the nature of business have greatly increased the likelihood that we will end up unemployed. Peer pressure to have so many material things and the availability of credit have put us on the brink of financial disaster. Advertising and entertainment tells us we need to eat only healthy foods and work out daily. Women are expected to be thin, with big breasts and always properly made up. It all leads to creating an immense amount of stress.
I wonder if there are really that many more people who are bipolar than there were 50 years ago. Granted the number of people were much smaller, but it just doesn’t seem that there were that any ‘crazy’ people (Since bipolar wasn’t a formal diagnosis at the time). We only had one mental institution, and I never heard of a bed shortage. It does seem that the number of afflicted people is growing though. What I think is happening is that the nature of our world now increases the severity and frequency of episodes for people who may have been able to maintain in a calmer, simpler environment. Speaking for myself, it’s very easy to let the fast pace of life get out of control and turn into a manic episode. Or when it gets so overwhelming it frequently turns into a depression. I don’t believe that the world is creating more mental illness, but it’s making the illnesses worse.
The other side of that equation though is that treatments have also gotten much better. There are new medications that are more effective with less side effects being introduced all the time. 50 years ago pretty much the only treatment available was lithium and ECT. We may be more susceptible to our environment, but we are also better able to manage the results. I really have to wonder if I’d be doing as well as I am without the modern medicine, even in that quieter, simpler time.
So are we better or worse off than we were when I was a child? There’s no question we have more conveniences and are better connected with the world than we’ve ever been. But at what cost? The simple life of my youth was, well…simpler. The issues and problems of that time pale by comparison to the complexities of today. I think that the rise in the number of people with mental illness is a testament to how our world has really changed.
I recently heard a quote that was attributed to Albert Einstein. “When mankind interacts more with technology than with each other, society is doomed”. I am not able to confirm that he actually said that, but I believe it has some validity regardless of the source. As humans, we have accomplished some amazing technological advances. We are more connected than we’ve ever been thanks to the internet and social media. But I think that actually ends up removing us from real human contact that we need. And the added stress that come with these advances push all our limits.
Having a mental illness is difficult enough on its own. I think that the more advanced our technology becomes the harder it is to maintain mental health. And, thanks to the advances in treatment of mental illnesses, the easier it is.
It’s a wonderful world.