The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently published an alarming report—the rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, and addiction are dangerously on the rise. The overall suicide rate alone in the United States jumped up 30% in the past twenty years, with a spike witnessed across all demographic groups. So what’s the cure to society’s spiraling mental health epidemic? It’s human connection. Here’s how I explain it an excerpt from my upcoming book Science of a Happy Brain.
“There is an unrecognized and pervasive epidemic affecting society today. It’s not a virus, it’s not the flu, but it’s just as contagious and deadly. In the past few decades this disease has proliferated to cause the premature deaths of millions. Chances are you know someone who currently suffers from or has succumbed to this illness. Maybe you’ve witnessed firsthand this disease silently spreading in your families, neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. No vaccine, no pill can completely immunize you from this disease. What’s this deadly epidemic? It’s society’s Disease of Despair.
“The reasons behind the rise in the Disease of Despair are notably intertwined and complex. But, there appears to be one culprit: the increasing decline of social support systems and social resilience in the United States over the past few decades are disrupting the Social Brain.
“In my personal opinion, one extraordinary—yet still largely unexplored and undervalued—discovery to come out of brain science research over the past few decades is the Social Brain model of human development. It’s the revolutionary idea how the human brain evolved fundamentally as a social organ as a strategy for survival.
“In a world that sees the breakdown of strong communities, our adversarial political climate, the instilled fear of ‘the other,’ our fixation on technology, and cultural discord appear to saturate the despairing brain. The lack of tribe in our world fries the ancient wirings of the Social Brain. The result? Living in age of amplified anger, anxiety, and addiction drives the Disease of Despair and hijacks your Happy Brain.
“The human brain literally evolved for social bonding. It’s now indisputable from science—humans evolved for social connection. Nature reinforces the importance of social bonding through the brain’s release of dopamine to reward you with feelings of pleasure and contentment whenever you participate in any form of pro-social behavior. You feel good when you connect; your Social Brain gifts you with a massive boost of dopamine every time you choose to meet face-to-face with friends over coffee, celebrate the holidays with family, and create space in your life for playtime.”
It’s all the more reason we need to embrace the ancient art of human connection and bring it into the modern world for a more hopeful future.
If you enjoyed this excerpt, be sure to sign up for your pre-order of Science of a Happy Brain coming out later this year.