Robin Williams’ suicide shocked the world. It seems unfathomable that someone so manically funny, who brought so much laughter into our lives, could be plagued with depression.
As his beloved alien character Mork might have said … “Does. Not. Compute.”
Outwardly, it appeared that he had everything to live for — loving family, adoration from fans, respect of his peers, and financial and artistic success.
But Williams suffered lifelong struggles with substance abuse (alcohol and cocaine), depression, and bipolar disorder. Days after his suicide, his wife announced that he was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which can produce depression, even in people with no previous history of it.
If anything good can come of this, it’s the hope that this will keep the much-needed discussion open on what is going wrong with the state of our collective mental health.
Epidemics of Depression and Suicide
Both suicide and depression rates have been skyrocketing.
People born after 1945 in the US and other developed countries are three times more likely to experience depression than people born before. (2)
19 million Americans are affected by clinical depression every year. (3)
Each year, 34,000 people commit suicide, about twice as many deaths as caused by homicide. (4)
In 2010, suicide took more lives than all wars, murders, and natural disasters combined. (5)
Modern Lifestyle to Blame
So what has happened since World War II that could be responsible for this upswing in depression and suicides?
The changes that have taken place in society since World War II are so profound and numerous it might be easier to list what hasn’t changed since then. But here are some of the things we’re exposed to now that are enemies of the health of our brains or the state of our minds:
- Eating processed food loaded with sugar, unhealthy fats, and additives
- Living in a sea of man-made chemicals — there are over 80,000 in our environment and our food (6)
- Electromagnetic field exposure — the World Health Organization considers cell phones as dangerous as lead and chloroform (7)
- Social isolation — 26 million Americans now living alone (8)
- Lack of exercise — most of us spend up to 12 hours per day sitting
- Insomnia — 60% of us regularly don’t get enough sleep (9)
- Increased stress
- Increased use of both recreational and prescription drugs
Our modern lifestyle is wreaking havoc on our brains and our mental well-being. Could getting away from it all and going back to simpler times be the answer?
A Better Way
You don’t have to go far to find pockets of people where depression and suicide are almost unknown.
Here in the US we can look at Amish communities. The two largest can be found in Ohio and Pennsylvania with about 50,000 members each. These people choose to lead very simple lives and eschew modern conveniences — no electricity, phones, or cars.
They work hard and eat food they raise themselves.
They also have a strong sense of community and religious faith.
And they have virtually no depression or suicide.
Amish teens are given permission to take a year out to live amongst the “English” as they call the non-Amish.
It’s surprising to us — but not to their elders — that 90% choose to return to their simple way of life.
You can also look at longevity centers of the world called “Blue Zones” — places like Okinawa, Japan and Ikaria, Greece. People in these places stay healthy and active well into their 90’s. They experience significantly less depression. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are virtually unheard of.
You don’t have to move to a Greek Island or live like the Amish to start taking better care of your brain. Here are some common-sense steps you can take instead:
- Eat a diet based on real, unprocessed food.
- Get plenty of sleep and physical exercise.
- Spend more quality time with friends and family.
- Get away from your electronic devices as much as possible, stop multitasking, and spend time outside every day.
- Actively work at reducing stress with meditation, yoga or qi gong.
And, of course, laughter is a great way to stay healthy and happy.
Thank you, Robin, for making us laugh. You were a unique talent, a force of nature, and you will be sorely missed. RIP.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Deane Alban holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years. Her current focus is understanding how our modern lifestyle impacts the health of our brains and our mental well-being. Brain fog, depression, anxiety, and insomnia are a few of the signs your brain is not working as well as it should. Discover how to nourish your brain, optimize your brainpower, stay mentally sharp for life at BeBrainFit.com.