As 2021 comes to a close and society teeters on the precipice of 2022, countless life-altering events and new government policies drive unintended consequences in the American population. One specific unintended consequence involves the increasing trend of depression occurrences in the United States. As an Egyptian Proverb states, “Because we were so focused on the snake, we missed the scorpion.” In lieu of the Covid-19 global pandemic, the United States, alongside other world-leading nations, diverts the vast majority of resources to combat the coronavirus’s spread within significant population centers. However, at large, American society fails to discuss, or even recognize, the silent pandemic slowly claiming our brothers and sisters across the nation. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans have continued to debate the efficacy of state and federal government intervention to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. While the debates surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic continue to receive attention from mainstream media outlets, the silent cry for help among individuals and communities painfully endures. The “Silent Pandemic” revolves around the current trend of depression in the United States. Before addressing the current trend in American depression numbers, I shall provide context regarding the major events and policies influencing depression.
While each occurrence of depression has internal and unique causes, several contemporary factors catalyze the current crisis. Within my assessment, I will focus on the external aspects of Covid-19 isolation policies (i.e., distanced learning and mask mandates), social media, the institution of family, substance abuse, and mental health. These factors potentially correlate to an increase in depression within the general population. I posit these contemporary factors, or at least their current influence, directly correlate with the rise in depression in the United States. These factors do not carry a mutually exclusive status and often occur together. The nexus point for multiple factors ought to increase the drive for someone to commit suicide. I shall also examine depression within the veteran community as a specific demographic in American society.
Before discussing the situation of depression and its probable causes, I want to address the soapbox on which I stand. I do not purport nor claim to have any credentials as a psychologist or sociologist. The findings and conclusions drawn within this article reflect only the author’s views. This article will briefly cover natural law, humanity’s narcissistic outlook, and materialism to establish additional context. Then, an overview of significant events and policies since the technology revolution (the 1990s) – specifically within the timeline of the Covid-19 pandemic. Historically, the “Silent Pandemic” numbers fluctuate within the context of significant world events such as the Cold War, the Great Depression, and the 2008 Recession. Within the report, I shall consider physician-assisted suicide the same as self-inflicted suicide through depression. While the legality of physician-assisted suicide possesses various implications, the act remains a form of elected self-termination by the individual. Simply because the world experiences a pandemic does not directly drive the number of depression. The article’s primary purpose will explore the current situation of depression trends leading up to Covid-19.
Context of the Silent Pandemic
In the case of natural law and psychology, humans are herd animals. Association with other individuals, especially like-minded individuals, guides humans into conformity within their new social unit. Gone are the days of nomads and hunter-gatherers for humanity in developed nations; however, man remains tethered to nature – whether he acknowledges the fact or not. All of humanity’s trivial pursuits and innate materialistic passions pale compared to nature’s influence on us. Boil down contemporary society by removing the digital components, mechanical innovations, and social constructs, and you will find humans as sophisticated, rational animals. To lose sight of said revelation sets humanity’s future on a path of disconnect, false concepts of reality, depression, and deviation from the permanent things. As conservative theorist Russell Kirk states in Economics of the Permanent Things, “human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.”
Kirk goes on to say, “[r]eal progress consists in the movement of mankind toward the understanding of norms, and toward conformity to norms. Real decadence consists in the movement of mankind away from the understanding of norms, and away from obedience to norms.” In short, Kirk rightfully claims human nature and social truths serve as the norms humans ought to adhere to – humanity must attempt to avoid decadence. In an article by Dr. Noam Shpancer, he instructs a class on psychology and explores the human need for affirmation and group association. Dr. Shpancer uses a class demonstration of how alienation from group association and affirmation proves detrimental to mental health. In the American experiment, the Founding Fathers understood the influence of human nature and moral truths. To adopt the parlance of former United States military leader, General Andrew Jackson, we (Americans) are committed by nature to defending our nation and our liberty. With Jackson and Kirk in mind, contemporary American society fails to acknowledge and revere nature and its corresponding moral truths.
Humans continue to find moral purpose and work towards reforming personal vices. Without the virtue of community and belonging, humans fall short in satisfaction during their lives. Aristotle and Seneca view the pursuit of a more virtuous existence as a purpose for existence. While Nietzsche published some anti-religious writings, his respect for those who follow religious paths in life remains constant. Nietzsche enters the foreground of the context because of his interpretation of life as an ocean or land, one unpredictable, the other consistent. As people find themselves alienated from the community, they find solace in the ocean mindset because the tide will carry them through life. The uncertainty can cause habits of depression from stressors such as the anxiety of unpredictable future opportunities. Nietzsche emphasizes that humans attain satisfaction through hobbies, and the communities each hobby contains can help humans tolerate others in the community. Today, American society has significant changes regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, which disrupts the norms individuals adhere to daily. Herein lies the stress of the struggle to deal with inconsistent leadership during the biological crisis and alienation from social groups – the depression stage now has a setting.
From a political standpoint, the efficacy of medical countermeasures and recommendations from government entities perpetuate inconsistencies across the nation. Government overreach and the willing sacrifice of personal or medical autonomy have engendered a divisive community atmosphere. During the first year of the Covid-19 outbreak, an election gave more opportunities for increasing the magnitude of stress. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), over two-thirds of U.S. adults (68%) state the 2020 U.S. presidential election served as a significant source of stress in their life, a large increase from the 2016 presidential election at 52%. The transition of power between Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump during the Covid-19 pandemic adds to the tension between political parties and stressful grassroots conditions. As the spread of Covid-19 continued, the data began to reflect a discrepancy between certain states, “[t]here have been 239 deaths per million among [Republican]-state residents, compared with 150 per million in [Democrat] states” (Bump, 2021). Regardless of dividing states by political majority, the federal government violates the Constitution and delivers false promises to Americans. President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign website provides a “guide” on how the federal government will control the rate of Covid-19 cases. Yet, President Biden recently claims the federal government has no solution to curbing the rates for Covid-19 patients. The political context provides the perfect storm for influencing depression rates concerning the natural law and psychology. Inconsistent leadership (norms) and isolation policies (alienation from social groups) meet at a nexus point for increasing stressors in an exceedingly fragile state of humanity. Humanity’s obsession with the materialistic needs of consumption generates a narcissistic outlook in the context of natural law.
The timeline of the technology revolution also has trace elements that contribute to the current situation of depression in America. The majority of technology context will reside within my section for social media and its role in isolating Americans. However, the digital footprint marks depression rates in the United States and must discuss before the social media section. Social media will serve as the primary subject of interest within the technology realm versus other various facets of technology influence on individuals (i.e., video games or business programs). The development of screen timers and child settings on specific devices and platforms now curb the amount of time young individuals spend on their technology. The fear of censorship from the leading social media platforms continues to occupy the minds of the conservative movement. Facebook, Twitter, and more recently, Tik Tok represent three major social media platforms and dominate the digital marketplace of ideas worldwide.
Covid-19 Isolation Policies and Depression
During the Covid-19 pandemic, isolation policies catalyze depression among Americans as waves of Covid-19 variants infect individuals coast-to-coast. According to a publication from Boston University, the depression rate among adults has increased from 8.5 percent in the first few months of 2020 to 27.8 percent at the height of the first wave of Covid-19. The same article also states the issue of depression continues into 2021, with depression rates at 32.8 percent – nearly 1 in 3 Americans. What the federal and local governments fail to perceive, and have for some time, isolation policies, such as lockdowns, do not consider the mental health concerns of individuals. From a global perspective, the third world cannot afford the United States to enter another lockdown because the worldwide supply chain, which carries vital resources, will halt. The mental health of those living in third-world countries will worsen similarly to individuals residing in America. Connecting to the context of natural law and psychology, the isolation policies for Covid-19 will further alienate people from their social cliques. As civilized herd animals, humans require association with others to function as stable individuals properly. Isolation policies like distanced learning, economic lockdowns, facial mask mandates, social distancing, and virtual events decrease interaction humans desperately need to maintain a healthy mental status. Isolation policies also adversely impact God-given liberties, some of which remain enshrined within the U.S. Constitution. Mandates and the information war concerning Covid-19 decrease medical autonomy during a pandemic, increasing stress. Humans prefer to have personal independence, and limiting someone creates significant dissatisfaction. The isolation policies of Covid-19 cause depression for individuals because of a lack of personal autonomy and alienation from in-person social connections. Distanced learning policies for students will also impact depression rates. The lack of in-person student interaction during online school leads to increased depression and other mental health issues. Students who engage in distance learning may not reside in stable home environments, and therefore, have to deal with those harsh elements without the reprieve of commuting to class.
As a side note concerning individual liberties, the shifting baseline syndrome, most commonly found in environmental conservation, explains a part of the battle to preserve those liberties. The scientific field of ecological conservation ironically appears to fit the narrative since this article explores innate human nature. Soga and Gaston define the shifting baseline syndrome (SBS) as “a gradual change in the accepted norms for the condition of the natural environment due to a lack of human experience, memory or knowledge of its past condition.” Applying the lens of SBS to the Covid-19 isolation policies, members of society, specifically in the United States, began to accept the unconstitutional overreach of government power over the autonomy of individuals. Removing those innate liberties creates a feeling similar to a loss of control. As stated before, humans crave control – especially over themselves. The loss of power creates stress and leads to depression. The SBS indicates Americans can lose more individual liberty when the Covid-19 restrictions become more common.
Social Media and Depression
The relationship between social media and depression has had subtle correlations since digital platforms began to gain popularity. Specifically, the adolescent population suffers from the depression social media creates in various ways. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), numerous studies have shown a direct correlation between the volume of social media use and both depression and anxiety. The same NIH article finds research suggesting that more social media consumption someone engages in equates to an increase of negative online experiences, fewer in-person social encounters, and decreased ability to pay attention. One might draw a connection with social media as an addictive element and a significant chance of suffering from depression. While most studies focus on adolescence, the adult population can also suffer from increasing depression rates with social media as a direct cause. In the advertisement field, emulation appeal serves as a tool to persuade consumers to buy certain products over another. Emulation can influence the way humans view social interaction. The advertising industry uses the emulation technique because humans conform to societal norms like cows follow other cows in a pasture. Humans desire to emulate what they view as a model subject. The name of the game is acceptance.
Social media factors into the situation and continues to push depression rates up when teenagers and young adults cannot fully emulate what they desire. For example, Katy, a young girl from rural America, wants to mimic Taylor Swift’s makeup. But if Katy cannot fully duplicate Swift’s makeup, she feels incomplete or lacks the self-confidence to feel pretty. The lack of self-confidence leads to harsher self-criticism and, over time, will develop into depression. Without a good friend group, because they all exist on social media, an isolated Katy will have no support from her social group to gain confidence. With the focus on social media, an essential aspect of the debate indicates social media develops and exacerbates habits of depression. Social media can also provide people with a false sense of reality. The “pleasures” one perceives to gain from using social media do not hold in reality. Instantaneous reactions and “interactions” on social media gauge our satisfaction with unique qualities. If one post does not receive much attention or praise, depression leads individuals to lose self-confidence. Influencers now buy followers in the form of bots to increase their popularity. Algorithms control what you see on social media feeds and tailor your views to create an echo chamber of opinion. Social media divides the country and allows the political elites to control what the American public learns. All the facets of social media I mention further the control of the technology industry and suppress freedom of thought, access to diverse information, and create a self-destructive mentality. Depression serves as an indicator and byproduct of the situation social media has perpetuated.
In the era of Covid-19, social media serves as an unrealistic window into other people’s lives. As Leadership Institute President Morton Blackwell states, “remember the other side has troubles too.” Social media lets other people see the highlights of someone’s life, not the negative aspects. People will browse social media and compare themselves to someone’s highlight reel. Such an act engenders a feeling of inadequacy as you travel your unique path. Depression sets in when you focus on someone else’s life and compare life’s problems to happiness. Without an in-person interaction, such as the time during Covid-19, people will lose touch with reality and their social groups.
The Institution of Family and Depression
Using the lens of familial ties to understand trends in depression, one must first set boundaries of focus. Understandably, families can take many different forms. The article shall focus on the nuclear family in contemporary America and its correlation to depression. Historically, the family unit serves as the most crucial aspect of societal formation. In sociology, social demographers track the population trends through different stages of the Demographic Transition Model (DTM), which indicates the birth and death rates. On the DTM, the United States currently resides in the fourth stage, which means a high population size with decreasing birth and mortality rates. With the context of the population established, the core element of the United States of America remains with the institution of the family. As the United States has developed through the DMT, the treatment of the elderly and the cost trends of supporting a family continue to change. In the first stage of DMT, individuals have children as a form of retirement plans and workers on the family property. In turn, the elderly will provide grandchild care while the parents go off to produce an income. The family of a first stage nation on the DMT maintains a cyclical nature; however, in the fourth stage, the United States witnesses a degradation of the traditional family unit. Herein lies the intersection of family units and the trends in depression. While the effects of weak family units present themselves primarily in adulthood, different indicators in the adolescent years occur.
A 1963 Congressional record lists specific indicators of communist infiltration into the United States from a political standpoint. One of those indicators reads as follows: “Discredit The Family As An Institution. Encourage Promiscuity And Easy Divorce”. While no causal evidence exists to blame discrediting the family unit on communism, society appears to parallel the statement. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the trends of marriage and divorce rates in the United States leading up to the pandemic in 2019 continue to decline. Concerning the empirical data for 2020 and 2021, limited studies can only confirm the same declining trend in marriage or divorce rates, respectively. A common byproduct of divorce is depression, even unhealthy behaviors. Consider the information on happiness for people in a consistent, lifelong marriage, multiple marriages, and single for life individuals. According to a study from Michigan State University, individuals who remain in a consistent marriage and those with numerous marriages have the same general happiness level. The results sound similar to a quote by Alfred Tennyson, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” While this study explains the majority of the picture with marriage, underneath the surface, marriage has many facets. One can live their entire life in one unhappy marriage. Marriage serves as a traditional basis for the formation of a family. Addressing marriage as the foundation of family presents a logical first step. From the Harvard Gazette, Dr. Robert Waldinger, director of the study and a psychiatry professor at Harvard, found close relationships, more than money or fame, keep people content throughout their lives. Waldinger reports the study also reveals those close ties protect people from life’s great discontents and better predict long, happy lives over social class, genes, or intelligence. During Covid-19, the decrease of marriages and isolation from family creates stress on familial ties alongside elements of depression, as indicated above.
Turning attention to the children in a family unit, studies can prove a relation between solid family ties and developing depression. According to the University of North Carolina Population Center (UNCPC), scientific evidence shows close family relationships reduce depression during adolescence – the primary stage of developing depression for young women. Teenage women suffer from depression with a higher frequency and duration than their male counterparts. The same UNCPC article continues to say the studies conclude the mental health benefits of a cohesive family will last into midlife. Families serve at least four significant purposes in child development. The four considerable purposes include but are not limited to socialization, practical and emotional support, regulating sexual activity, and providing a social identity. All of the listed purposes align with the contextual backing at the beginning of this article and further identify areas where depression can arise if said purposes are not met. The critical factor of teaching a child prudence in decision making and developing a network of connections will lessen the emotional uncertainty in the real world. A family can use their experience and instill prudence within the development stages of a child. The opposition will object to the picturesque family situation within this article. However, even abusive family settings can teach children lessons on avoiding the same mistakes previous generations make. For example, a child who witnesses their consistently drunk mother can learn to limit or abstain from excessive alcohol consumption. The possibility the child will fall into the same fate as the mother remains, but the child possesses the liberty to follow the same path should they choose – one can only hope the child will attempt to avoid the same dysfunction. How does Covid-19 factor into the family setting and correlate with depression rates? With the context of contemporary family dynamics in play, Covid-19 engenders a polarizing effect on family dynamics.
Adults looking to start families have to exert more effort to establish a healthy relationship with a spouse. According to Social Demographer and Sociology Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Jennifer Glass, evidence suggests the forces discouraging fertility continue to escalate in the post-industrial period – like the present-day United States. The discouraging forces include the increasing expenses for children, wages of adult men either stagnating or declining, the risk of becoming a single parent being quite large, and the opportunity cost of leaving the labor force to raise a family increases among women. The Covid-19 pandemic does not assist any form of family. Inflation, increasing dependency on government welfare, supply chain shortages, a viral plague, isolation policies, and rising overtime at work exacerbate anxiety and depression within the United States. All the current ailments of American society do not create a low threshold for starting a family. As a factor in the increasing depression and degradation from the original social institution of family, the circumstances in the Covid-19 era do not help a worsening situation.
Another short aspect of depression occurs in family life and working career. The phenomenon of work-life balance appears to elude many working-class American breadwinners. A 2017 survey from the American Psychological Association reveals more than a third of Americans experience chronic work stress. Such stress increases the risk of depression due to the lack of control in one’s professional life. Outside of professional life, people need personal hobbies to enjoy aside from work, and if they have a family, they ought to spend time with their loved ones. Part of the joy with family life includes watching your children grow into adulthood. According to a separate survey, more than half of the respondents regret not spending enough time with their children when they were younger. Regret associated with the lack of quality time with children tends to develop into depression – especially after the child goes off independently. In the case of Covid-19, the abundance of time with children at home can decrease the regret of not spending time with children. However, working from home presents other stress-inducing challenges for parents, like working remotely and keeping children occupied.
Substance Abuse and Depression
To tackle the root cause of depression in the United States, the current climate of substance abuse requires understanding some facts and figures. Substance abuse can take many different forms. Alcohol, antidepressants, opioids, porn, unhealthy food all constitute possible forms of substance abuse. The section shall focus primarily on drug abuse and porn addiction as a catalyst in increasing the depression rates in the United States. First, the information regarding drug abuse and depression. Referring to the 2020 panel surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Overall, 40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), signs of trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic† (26.3%), and have started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%).
The study highlights the depression-inducing elements and coping mechanisms during the Covid-19 pandemic. Considering suicide as the extreme end to depression, the same CDC source reports women have a higher chance of developing suicidal tendencies. The evidence aligns with the teenage depression data referenced in this article. Individuals of the younger age, minority, essential workers, and caregiver categories report having higher tendencies to develop behaviors and coping mechanisms consistent with depression. The Overdose Detection Mapping Application System (ODMAP) indicates the early months of the pandemic have an 18% increase in drug overdoses – a trend which continues throughout 2020. The American Psychological Association experts agree that economic stress and loneliness magnify substance abuse during the pandemic through clinical observation and research. The history of substance abuse predates the pandemic. The pandemic only appears to amplify the destructive nature of addictive substances. A study by the University of California San Diego Health addresses the impact of substance abuse on teenagers, “..families that experienced the loss of income or material hardship during the pandemic, substance use among youth was higher. Heightened stress, depression, and anxiety were all robustly associated with youth substance abuse.” The drugs serve as an escape from the challenges of reality. Instead of facing personal and professional problems with integrity, many people develop substance abuse behaviors to avoid managing their lives. Isolation policies, social media, and the other aforementioned elements of depression contribute to the silent pandemic within the United States.
The second portion of the substance section will cover the increasing consumption of pornography during the pandemic. With data from a 2020 Nature article, the consumption of pornography identifies 46–74% of men and 16–41% of women are active pornography users in modern nations. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) attributes the increase in pornographic consumption to physical isolation due to the lockdowns. Stein et al. reports that individuals with Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder (CSBD), as a core component of their life, who cannot control CSBD, will suffer negative consequences in relationship development, professional demerits, and adverse health side effects. CSBD follows the impulsive-control disorder model. A report from Utah State University highlights the side effects of pornography consumption: “damaging effects of pornography for users can include addiction, isolation, increased aggression, distorted beliefs and perceptions about relationships and sexuality, negative feelings about themselves, and neglecting other areas of their lives.” The nexus of pornography consumption and Covid-19 exacerbate the negative influences on a person’s quality of life.
The institution of the family suffers from the addiction to pornography in America. Professor J. Budziszewski compares hook-up culture and pornography to duct tape on a hairy arm. Budziszewski provides an example of placing a piece of duct tape on a hairy forearm. Every time you rip the duct tape off your arm, more and more hair follicles will rip off with the video. After some time, the forearm will have no hair, and the person will feel no pain. Pornography consumption represents the repeated duct tape removals, while the forearm hair represents your attraction and perception to healthy relationships. The less forearm hair you have means, the less ability an individual has to develop, and sustain, successful relationships. As previously stated, pornography consumption provides an unhealthy addiction for people to distract themselves from real-world problems. A lack of confidence also feeds such an addiction. Pornography, just like any addiction, can also negatively impact work productivity and time individuals can use for healthy hobbies or family time.
American Veterans and Depression: A Brief Case Study on Mental Health
According to the Pentagon, 163 service members committed suicide in the third quarter of 2021, representing more service members who died from coronavirus since the pandemic. The three primary forms of mental health concerns regarding service members and veterans revolve around Posttraumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). In general, about one in five Americans suffers from a mental health disorder ranging in severity. A 2014 Journal of the American Medical Association report indicates the depression rate for service members at five times higher than civilians. Inoue et al. show between 1996 and 2016, the overall suicide rate in the United States increased 30% – 17.8% of the recorded suicide increase was committed by veterans. Mental health has a direct correlation with behaviors consistent with depression. Veterans and service members already have an increased potential to develop depression, but with the situation of Covid-19, the rates will not decrease. About 14 percent of military personnel experience depression after deployment, but those numbers reflect service members who seek treatment for their situation (Legg, 2018). Veterans and service members have an increasingly difficult time assimilating into civilian life, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Particular presidential administrations consider the reports about mental health in military service in varying degrees. In 2018, an executive order was signed by President Trump to expand care for military service members (present and future) with the intent to combat depression rates within the six branches.
The situation concerning depression rates in the United States, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, requires more attention. The mainstream media will only briefly report on mental health, specifically depression and suicide, when a significant incident or report emerges. However, depression remains an ongoing issue – even in the shadows. Military members continue to suffer from higher rates of depression and suicide, but further reforms for support programs will hopefully provide more answers. The “Silent Pandemic” rests in plain sight, but most Americans choose to ignore the situation or fear uncertain outcomes. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on American society, and the factors contributing to depression continue. Social media, the degradation of family, substance abuse, concern over mental health, and Covid-19 isolation policies further the narrative on the “Silent Pandemic.” The distance between humanity’s understanding of natural law and certain moral truths provides a lens most individuals do not consider. Depression and suicide are critical indicators of how far human lifestyles deviate from nature’s design. To address the situation of depression, members of society must understand the civility we possess helps the world cooperate for the greater good. However, we must not forget, first and foremost, where humanity’s origins intersect with present-day life. The trends of society show the increasing atomization, isolation, and discontent with the virtues of the human condition.
Even bipartisan political discussion will resolve nothing regarding depression in the United States. While the American society withers away, we will only suffer from the product of our toil. The Founding Fathers gave the United States a foundation made from liberty under God and adherent to innate moral truths. The main objective of our union…improve upon ourselves and minimize the vices of human nature. Now, our communities’ silent cry for help falls on deaf ears. Social media erodes the social fabric and further divides the family unit. Americans have lost the meaning of existence and how to find true joy within the facets of life. Depression now replaces the fire which burned within the soul of a nation born from individual liberty and a dare to dream. The “Silent Pandemic” has the potential to dismantle any meaningful future for God’s country. At the beginning of the United States, brothers and sisters listened for the call to protect our fellow countrymen. America achieved a perfect balance of government between chaos and order. All the greatest American legends, Dick Best, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the Rosie Riveters, Ellen Ochoa, now have a prodigy muzzled and bereft of passion – but a thirst for dangerous pursuits driven by depression. As Emperor Honorious watched the fall of Rome, are we doomed to the same fate from within?