As long as we think that slapping a label on something — “mood disorder,” “communist,” “depression” — is the same as understanding it, it won’t get better.

The presidential primaries, the collapsing economy, reality TV — is life in America driving you crazy? You’re not alone.

According to the Atlantic Monthly (using data compiled by the World Health Organization), 47 to 55 percent of Americans are diagnosed with a mental disorder at some point in their lives. From depression to psychosis, no other nation comes close to the incidents of mental illness we have.

We’re diagnosed with twice as much mental illness as the runner up, the Ukraine.

What’s going on?

No one has a clear answer, but I’d bet on over-diagnosis as being a big chuck of this problem. America loves symptoms and we’re addicted to diagnoses. Some of us look for ourselves in “shyness disorder” and “hyperactivity” the way others try to find themselves in “Aquarius” and “Gemini” — often with as much scientific basis.

We love the idea that we can pop a pill to change our personalities. Much in the same way Americans are always looking for a quick fix way to lose weight without the work, we’re looking for a quick fix to make us happy without really trying.

There’s also a lot of money in over-diagnosis. Drug companies make billions with each new condition they create that people can swallow a pill to “fix.” It’s a lot less profitable for them when people talk to psychologists, and there’s no profit at all when people turn to family and friends. Put simply, the more you are a series of tics on a checklist, the more money you’re worth to Big Pharma.

We have to stop that. It infantilizes us and provides an excuse for us not to change things that obviously need to be changed.

And things do need to be changed. Because even if we were better about not assuming that every child with an imagination has ADHD and everyone who’s unhappy with their life needs anti-depressants, the fact would still remain that American culture has become so toxic that a substantial portion of Americans are struggling to keep their minds afloat.

I’m not surprised. Are you?

I mean, look at us. We idolize celebrities who aspire to be train wrecks. We glorify sex and violence. We’re fighting three wars at once and yet it barely makes the news. We bail out Wall Street and then stand by while Wall Street gouges us. We have a political system that everyone agrees is broken but no one knows how to fix. Our schools are crumbling, health care costs jump by double digits most years, and the middle class is disappearing. Our legal system says corporations are people — but they can’t be held accountable for their actions. The Internet connects us 24/7 whether we like it or not.
This is obviously a mentally toxic environment.

And we know it. Everywhere I go, I meet people who want the same thing: they want it to stop. They want to live in a country that doesn’t drive them crazy. The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Obama’s message of “Hope and Change” — what were these about except a primal scream that we just can’t take this anymore?

But it won’t get better. As long as we’re addicted to easy fixes, it can’t.
We tried listening to Prozac and pumping our kids full of Ritalin. We tried Paxil and every drug in the pharmacy rainbow, and we’ve just been getting more depressed. We’ve tried glorifying money and demonizing the opposition and fighting for power and leaving angry comments on the opposition’s blog posts, and it’s only led to more fighting.

As long as we think that slapping a label on something — “mood disorder,” “communist,” “Republican,” “depression” — is the same as understanding it, it won’t get better.

We live in an easy-fix culture that is coming to realize that there are no easy fixes ... while the endless search for them drives us crazy.

Benjamin Wachs writes for Messenger Post Media, and is the editor of Fiction365.com. Email him at Benjamin@Fiction365.com.