Health Disorders or Society’s Disorders?

I’ve been asking myself lately, what is a health disorder anyway? And is a drug always the right solution?

When nearly everyone has the same problem, it might be called society’s disorder. Prevalence of mental disorders in the US are 46% over a lifetime, 26% in any given year, and start at age 14-according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This means that half of us are likely to have a mental disorder at some time in our lives. And 23% of these are labeled as severe. This is a lot of disorder. A lot of healthcare use, a lot of drugs being prescribed, taken, some diverted, and some abused.

I’ll start with my favorite health disorder, depression, because I’ve had some personal experience with that one in the past. Lifetime prevalence of depression is about 16%. Women are more likely to be depressed than men, 70% more likely, again from the National Institute of Mental Health. This is a very large difference. The age it generally starts is about 30 years.

When I think about what has happened to a woman in the US by the time she is 30, and have to ask, is it any wonder so many women are depressed?

We can give depressed women antidepressant drugs. We can offer counselling, and suggest exercise. Can we give women equal pay, safe passage to work and school, protection from abusive spouses? Can we give hope? I think we can. I think we can address the many inequalities and causes of suffering actor Judy Dench so intelligently lays out in front of Daniel Craig in this moving video where she has him experiment with role reversal. The script is by Jane Goldman, a first for a 007 scene.

The gross overuse of drugs is one of the costs of healthcare that have gone out of control in the US. Our most misused drugs today are not halucinogens, they are pain killers. So I have to ask myself, what is it about our society that is so painful? And can we change it?

Please leave a comment to share your thoughts and join a discussion.

More on health statistics from:

7 responses to “Health Disorders or Society’s Disorders?”

  1. Brilliant video, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Despite everything, or in spite of it, I’m still a believer that men and women ARE equal and it’s just the opportunities given to us, whether it’s a loving childhood, supportive background, socioeconomic factors or education. However, I do not have any children, work for myself in a non-corporate world and lucky to not be in a non-violent relationship. I do think this makes a great difference to my outlook on life.

    I do think modern society does nothing to help with people’s mental health (or personal health, love that thought!). Financial and family commitments mean many people are stretched beyond their means. For some, drugs may be the only solution, but there are so many drugs being prescribed out there that I don’t think get to the cause of the problem and only help mask the symptoms. A big issue of any mental illness is isolation or loneliness and the breakdown of community and family life (with people living further away) is definitely not helping.


    • Ka Hang thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. It is so true that our inner selves are and long to be equal, but the opportunities seem to vary so much based on gender. You make a great observation on the use of drugs to improve symptoms but not the cause. It’s necessary to treat painful symptoms, but when a root cause of unhappiness is “society’s disorder”, how difficult it is to hope for change (yet I do hope for change). Also a wonderful observation about family, while some do well with isolation, community and family could be wonderfully healing I think. Sometimes I feel a loss of the extended family and the community was really jarring to me personally. New family, new community can be built but with difficulty and from a very different fabric.


      • “New family, new community can be built but with difficulty and from a very different fabric.” Well said!

        Growing up, we were the only family from Hong Kong in our Greek city. I’m sure I was affected but it definitely paled in comparison to what my parents must’ve felt, far from their families (close and extended). And this was way before skype or even affordable long distance phone calls! They compensated by throwing themselves into the family business and the long hours that come with that. 30 years on and now they wouldn’t change it for the world. I do believe that is why in my naive optimism, gender is not even an issue as my parents made it a point that success is what you make of it. My dad does insist that self-employment or being the boss is the only way to go, but I digress.


  2. Loved the video, and unfortunately as far as the male dominated society that the world has evolved into, the answer unfortunately is no, woman are not looked at or treated as equals. How do we get to turn the tables; with more messages like the video and more publicity for them. With better education from ground zero up. More social responsibility, better understanding of ourselves. Teach Self-awareness in schools, and brain science 101 in secondary schools (UK) and High Schools (US).

    There are more and more movies being put out that have a good message for woman, and woman (albeit slowly) are getting into higher level positions in business and politics. These women are role models for our children, ones that foster peace in peace time, not as so many of the great male leaders that have been written into the history books brought peace from war time, a far easier task.

    We are different in how we think but I am not so sure that it is as much of a M/F thing as it is a personality thing. As we evolve and adapt to the new ways of the world, balance must come, or nature will rule.

    Great things come slowly, bit by bit. Equality must prevail for us to have peace in the world, for without that we have nothing.

    As far as drugs and depression it has to be Society’s Disorder. Helped along (by us,men) and while not promoted as Society’s Disorder it should be. Many of these drugs for depression are like throwing a dart at a dart board blindfolded. You may hit the board, but it is Hobson’s choice. Sometimes I wonder if we have got much further forward than creating a pill equivalent of a temporary frontal lobotomy.

    Anti-depression drugs come with a stigma that do nothing to help get the subject of depression spoken about. Mental health needs a new name. Just personal health would be better.
    We as a species that has developed such a wondrous mode of communication do a shoddy job of communicating. We need to see what is special about everyone of us men and woman. We are all unique, special, different; but we will not see how special we could truly be until we all pull together, and that is a work in progress. Don’t give up, we shall prevail.


    • Simon, I love it when positive solutions are presented “more messages like the video and more publicity… better education from ground zero up. More social responsibility, better understanding of ourselves. Teach Self-awareness in schools, and brain science 101 in secondary schools (UK) and High Schools (US).” thank you so much for injecting these into the discussion.


  3. The statistics of the big inequality debate have changed little from those I used to challenge (by and large very privileged) students with at the University of Edinburgh in the early 1990s. Isn’t that depressing? And even at that time, older, mature students (largely women) were asking ‘surely there’s been some shift from the 1970s?’ Alas, not so, or at least, very little, whichever way you sliced the data.

    These days, younger people (by which I mean people younger than 30) don’t want to believe that the odds are still (often) stacked against women. And generally, Anglophone society likes to tell itself that progressive, liberal ideals have been successful in shaping a society in which women can be achievers – just like men, or different from men, and if so, even better.

    As a mother, I’d like to believe that too, so that I can send my daughters out into a world in which they’re valued as people, and paid a living wage. But I’m not always convinced, especially at the times when I’m most struggling with what it means to be a working mother, the stress that can cause and the messages I feel I might be sending to my daughters about the limited roles that are available to women (though in the future, I will swiftly direct them to your earlier blog on role models!).

    Still, we have to keep forging forward, to live the questions (as Rilke reminds us) in ways that will, at some point, become our answers. I see my daughters as more fearless than I was at their age, more knowledgeable, and certainly more equipped to deal with a world in which – as they are aware – the dice is loaded.


    • Thank you for adding your experience and insights and the beautiful reference to Rilke Alex. We ask the questions, we live the questions, our lives become the answers. I just wish I liked the answer I’m living better. My daughter recently wrote a monologue about my experiences as a geneticist, and performed it with a group of young women performance artists at the UN to the commission on women in science in technology this winter.

      I wish I could say it was more humor than heart break.

      Have a look at her interview at the UN: stage and music performer Lillian Rodriguez, “I’m from the Bronx” is interviewed by Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey and Tom Osborne



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