Mental illness, keeping up with the Joneses, and advertisements 2015.01.14

Written by David Green.

By DANNY KALIS

I’ve always been fascinated by psychology, but this week I came across an article that really made me stop to think. The article was about a study conducted in Minnesota that found high school students today to be five times more likely to suffer from a mental illness than those tested by the same criteria in 1938. How could that be?

The students surveyed in 1938 would have lived their last decade through the greatest economic depression in the history of the United States, and also would be right on the verge of World War II. Why would kids today be more likely to suffer from mental illness than kids in one of the most difficult times in our country’s existence? 

As of this writing, there appears to be no definitive way to explain it. I was taught in psychology classes that mental illness can be a combination of both nature and nurture. While heredity may play some involvement in susceptibility, I am a staunch believer in nurture (the environment we’re raised in) being the real culprit. A majority of scholars are quick to blame the parents, but I believe that to be an unfair indictment. Many people (especially those with a bit of age) believe that kids today are simply wimps. We whine and pout when we don’t get our way. We want everything handed to us. I hate to admit it, but I think they’re closer to the truth than we would like to admit. 

That might even explain it if the problem stopped when we grow up, but it doesn’t. The National Institute of Mental Health released an estimate that 43.7 million adult Americans have at least one mental illness. Thinking that statistic to be extreme; I decided to check some other reputable sources. SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) released a study in early 2011 which states that nearly 25 percent of all adults in the U.S. have at least one mental illness, almost 45 million people. These studies were conducted independently and found remarkably similar results. So the problem definitely exists, but why? 

From the time I was a little boy, advertisements have taught me what I want out of life. Every site I’ve researched for this column bombarded me with advertisements. Microsoft Word, where I type this, has a large advertisement in the bottom right corner. These various advertisements try to convince me that I need their products to be happy, which really means to be more like (or better than) the Joneses. I am now a grown up, and I have never stopped to consider: What if I don’t want to be like the Joneses? 

I currently work 60+ hours a week to afford a car that I use mostly to drive back and forth to work. I buy my children over-priced toys, made in a foreign sweat-shop, because that’s how parents are taught to show love. On holidays and anniversaries I buy my wife flowers and jewelry, because that shows I love her, right?

It’s not like advertisers would benefit from brainwashing people into believing that love and happiness are obtainable only with their products. I took some time this week and actually paid attention to the ads. Many of them didn’t even sell their own products; instead, they sell attractive people with expensive things and associate their product with that lifestyle.

I plan on switching careers very soon to a less time-consuming job, even if it means fewer almighty dollars, to spend more time with my family. I sat on the floor and played with my 3-year-old son today, building nonsensical things with little blocks. He turned to me and said, “This is so much fun. I love you, daddy.”

I don’t have all the solutions. I do, however, believe that we should all take a step back and think about what we really want, not what corporations tell us we want. I think that a huge reason that mental illness is on the rise is because we try to buy love and happiness, instead of getting down on the floor with the ones we love and earning it.

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