Does affluence and privacy lead to depression?

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By Sabrina Almeida

Ever feel your kids are spending too much time locked up in their rooms? Now is a good time to break them out of it. The downside of independence and privacy is isolation and depression.

On a recent visit to India, I observed how the youth I met were comfortable communicating with people of all ages. They didn’t grunt and groan in response to my questions. Or appear like only their bodies were present while their heads had floated off to another planet. It was not just a few of them but virtually all the young people I encountered.

They willingly narrated the ups and downs of the day and were happy to spend time with you. It was a pleasure to meet them.

As I pondered about the difference between the youth in India and here, I realized they were untainted by the “privacy” ideology. They didn’t retreat to their rooms on some pretext or the other and spent plenty of time in the company of family and friends.

It’s a fear that I had when we moved to North America more than 17 years ago— learned from what I saw in Hollywood films and heard from family members who had travelled here. Kids holed up in their rooms all day—aloof, uncommunicative and unsociable…

That’s why we kept the television out of the children’s rooms. So that we could spend more time as a family… and we did. Unfortunately the Internet has undone a lot of the good work.

I’m also not in favour of closed doors. Many parents proudly tell me how they are not allowed to enter their kids’ rooms. I’m appalled. The only times room doors are shut in my home are when someone is dressing or sleeping. What other reason do we need to keep each other out?

As having your own room was a rare luxury growing up in India, we learned how to respectfully share space. No matter how small, we welcomed as many people as possible into our homes with even neighbours opening their doors to accommodate extra guests for a special occasion. It was a sense of community and belonging. How many people were depressed then?

As I think back, our days in the one-bedroom apartment in Connecticut were probably the happiest ones. We didn’t lead separate lives or communicate via text messages. Being “in each other’s face” was rather enjoyable.

While the Internet and all the gizmos that support it must shoulder some of the responsibility for the growing isolation, bigger homes also increase the distance between family members.

In many situations, the parents and kids only encounter each other in the hallways or kitchen for a few fleeting moments. Very little interaction takes place at all. A long conversation often leads to arguments because of a lack of communication. Family members eat at different times and walk in and out of the home as though it were a boarding house.

Imagine post it notes on a family board  (oops now an app where you can share all information) being the only form of communication. But who needs conversation, right?

A recent study revealed some depressing facts about 3 developed countries of the world—our Canada included.
• 3.2 million Canadians in the age group of 12-19 years are at risk of getting depression
• 10 to 20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder
• 1 in 5 Americans have a mental illness
• Half of chronic mental illnesses, in the US, begins at age 14
• 1 in 5 adults in the UK are affected by anxiety or depression

I strongly believe that the emphasis on privacy and having your own space is one of the major factors. As people claim more of alone time and shift to Facebook rather than real friends, face-to-face human interaction is greatly reduced. Relationships are the first casualty! Isn’t that the reason for growth of Internet dating and matching making sites?

For years scientists have studied the effects of isolation on physical and mental health. Some studies allege that loneliness (specifically social isolation) has damaging effects and leads to both physical and mental ailments.

It’s the reason why solitary confinement is one of the worst forms of punishment and can drive a person crazy. Research shows that just 15 days of complete isolation can do irrevocable psychological harm.

A study published in the journal Psychological Science in 2013 (entitled Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality) found social isolation increased people’s likelihood of death by 26 percent, even when they didn’t consider themselves lonely. In fact, living alone and social isolation were found to be even more devastating to a person’s health than feeling lonely.

I guess that means we have to make an effort to have physical communication and give up the alone time and private space we’ve grown accustomed to.

The alternative is withering away in the privacy of our humongous homes or paying big bucks to have a conversation with a shrink!

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