I’ve just been watching the amazing footage of the meteor shower in central Russia. It must have looked like the Apocalypse to people on the ground, the darkening sky, eerie flashes of light, balls of fire streaking through the air, crashing sonic booms, windows shattering, car alarms going off. Did they pray? Duck and cover? Run amok? Apparently, it’s where some of the Soviet Union’s first atomic weapons were manufactured and now contains nuclear power plants and atomic waste storage. Not surprisingly, many people thought it was a nuclear attack.
What would any one of us think if, on a bright blue morning, the sky suddenly went dark and fireballs streaked across it? I’d probably think nuclear attack, too, but, then, I come from the duck and cover days of the 1940s and 50s. (With what we know now, it’s mind-boggling to think anyone believed getting under a little wooden school desk would protect us from nuclear attack.) Maybe people born more recently would think about missiles or nuclear power plant explosions.
With real worries like nuclear bombs, terrorist attacks, sudden financial ruin by far-away events, how can anxiety and depression (and the drugs and alcohol we use to banish them) be viewed simply as personal problems or biochemical imbalances? I read somewhere recently that there’s a huge rise in depression during economic downturns. Does this surprise anyone? Anxiety and depression seem to me pretty reasonable reactions to long-term unemployment or looming eviction.
These are problems people cannot solve on their own. They feel vulnerable and beaten down. Is the answer to pathologize and medicalize them? Of course when people need medication they should get it, without stigma or financial ruin. I just wonder whether the wide-spread and increasing diagnoses of psychological disorders, and their treatment with medication, don’t deflect attention from the deep-seated problems of our society that aren’t so easily treated. Freud supposedly said: “Love and work…work and love, that’s all there is.” Neither is in very good shape in 21st century America.
But today the sky is a brilliant blue and the mocking birds are celebrating and I have been lucky in my life.
Love with Rucksacks, by Anna Swir
Two grey heads,
And the roads of all the world