If I told you that it’s a known fact that mental health problems are rising in developed countries, you might reply. “so, what’s new.” And you would probably nod your head in agreement when I add that the most prevalent mental illness today is depression, with suicide becoming more and more of a concern.

Knowing a fact is one thing; understanding, quite another.

What is going on?

Let me offer an explanation. One I have not seen anywhere else. Out of the box:

Illness is caused by disintegration: you, the woman next to you, an anonymous man in the room-someone in plain sight  is “ falling apart”. That’s part of today’s reality. We take it for granted.

But what causes this disintegration?

Ah! That’s more complicated.

Start with the idea of a system. We are, most of us, part of a larger system (say a family or a business or teachers in a school, doctors in a hospital) But, also, as a human being we are a system in ourselves.

That system-the one where we are functioning solely as a human being-is comprised of subsystems. For the purpose of this blog I will identify four subsystems: The physical, the intellectual, the emotional  and the spiritual. We could all list others, depending how we wish to dissect the system.

Each subsystem changes as time passes by-some slower, others faster. Either way, change occurs.

When it is slow, the gaps in the speed of change within the subsystem are not large. When the change is accelerated and continuous the gaps are deeper.

Our physical subsystem, unfortunately, is changing rapidly. In part, this is because of our food supply, which is loaded with hormones and chemicals. One example: In our society, girls develop breasts and menstruate sooner today than they do in developing countries, where change is slower. Some girls approach womanhood in modern society at the age of 12, research shows.

While physical growth is increasing with greater speed, our intellectual subsystem is moving ever more slowly: It takes longer and longer  to approach adulthood.  In an earlier time, it was enough for my father to graduate from elementary school and be accepted as “ educated,” and a young adult.  Today, even a high school diploma is not considered a sufficient education for the marketplace; or for our social system. An undergraduate degree is usually required for tasks a high school diploma was sufficient in the past.

And more to the point, it takes longer to be considered an adult.  Adolescence has become that prolonged stage between childhood and adulthood. For some men, adolescence is so appealing it lasts well into middle age.

What about the emotional side?

I can not figure this one out. Is it developing quickly and thus aging faster? Or is it slower than the other two? What do you think ?

The spiritual has the slowest growth in my judgment. In the past, in primitive societies, the spiritual component was part of belonging to the tribe; it was expected of every member of the community. One participated in the communal ceremonies, followed the belief system as one grew up.

Today, with the breakdown of the institution of the family, as families move and split geographically, one has to develop a spiritual orientation by himself or herself.  It might be years before that happens for some men and women; never, for others.

The result is that with accelerated, continuous change the subsystems  “scatter” and gaps develop. You can analyze a person as one who is physically old, but intellectually and emotionally still in the process of growing. Meanwhile the spiritual subsystem remains in its infancy.

That individual is not “together.”

Take a person I know. Eighteen years old.
When I was growing up 18 was mature enough to get married and have a family. Today, I watch 18 year old boys and girls, and they behave like we did when we were under 10 or 11 or even 12: childish, immature.
By the same token look at someone who is 70 years old today. Physically, he is 70, but emotionally he behaves like a middle-aged person and, intellectually, he is still growing and learning.

We are not “together” you might say.  And those gaps in the subsystems have their manifestations in mental health problems.  So I believe.

Sincerely,

Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes