According to a recent NBC news poll, when Americans were asked about the country’s present direction, the top answers were “downhill,” “divisive,” “negative,” “struggling,” “lost,” and “bad.” The poll also indicated that the public’s interest in the upcoming midterm election is down. In other words, many Americans feel pessimistic, conflicted, and powerless to change our “downhill” slide.
As someone who’s suffered from depression, I recognize in the nation’s negative outlook several characteristic symptoms of my illness, in particular an amalgam of gloom, anger, and apathy.
In fact, Freud described depression as “anger turned inward.” In other words, the anger toward others, ironically, turns inward against ourselves, often making us feel like frustrated victims of injustice; or conversely, pathetic losers. Internalized critical voices, in effect, sabotage the individual’s emotional equilibrium, tearing the person apart with misplaced self-recrimination. And each loss we may experience only re-ignites this self-destructive attack.
Depression, therefore, seems an apt description of America’s present zeitgeist as toxic inner voices turn the nation against itself, disrupting its healthy functioning. For instance, the Covid pandemic has certainly dealt the nation more than its share of powerlessness and loss—in families, in employment, in income, in education, in community, in self-determination, in pride, and even in identity. Unfortunately, some citizens have turned their frustration and anger against both our government and each other.
Some have directed their anger about mask, vaccine and quarantine mandates against front line workers, causing their burnout and depression. And those disregarding these health mandates have prolonged the pandemic and endangered their own lives and those of fellow citizens. In other words, a nation’s anger has been turned inward against itself, exacerbating further divisions and depression in the national psyche.
And just as intrusive negative thoughts are typical of clinical depression; the politically polarized media constantly intrudes upon the nation’s consciousness with its obsession with our differences. Both the news and social media greedily masticate each morsel of information to a nauseating pulp which it feeds to the public in a steady diet of bad news. So, it should be no surprise that our nation is spiraling into despondency, apathy, and hopelessness. And America without hope is no longer America.
Sadly, just when we depend upon government to do its job to manage a health crisis and economic injustice; Congress and the President have been paralyzed by political in-fighting fueled by our divided electorate. Consequently, the nation’s future, children, are being devastated.
Researchers have recently found increasing depressive and anxiety symptoms among youth. Like canaries in the coal mine, our children’s depressive reaction to their environment is a warning of its intolerable toxicity. According to the Surgeon General’s Advisory on “Protecting Youth Mental Health,” symptoms of mental health challenges may cause serious problems with daily functioning and affect relationships “as in such cases as…depressive disorder.” Further, “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (ACEs) can undermine a child’s sense of safety, stability, bonding, and well-being,” which may create “toxic stress, So, it’s no wonder our children are depressed when the adult world models angry, malicious, and hateful behavior.
Perhaps, then, the therapeutic suggestions given to many depressed individuals may offer the nation a prescription for a more healthful and hopeful perspective of the future. According to Dr. Lisa Firestone, Director of Research and Education for The Glendon Association, “The goal is…to help the person develop more self-compassion.” In other words, rather than attacking himself as an enemy, the person might begin treating himself as a friend in need of understanding, patience, encouragement, and empathy.
By the same token, perhaps we can realize that in a democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people; our political adversaries remain our compatriots, friends, and neighbors –ourselves. And rather than turning anger inward against our nation, we may revive our hopes for the future through compassion for each other.
Thomas Cangelosi lives in Avon.