The World Health Organization has identified depression as the #1 most common illness across the globe today. In looking at the global burden of disease, no sickness burdens us as a planet more than depression. Moreover, depression is the second most common cause globally of disability. As some people have put it, “depression is the modern affliction” and we live in “the age of melancholy” (Aaron Kheriaty and Dan Blazer).
Isn’t that amazing? Of all the physical illnesses to have, the one that is most prevalent is the one that, though it has biological components for sure, is arguably the most spiritual. Is it not a tremendous display of our psychosomatic unity (our unity of body and soul) that our biggest physical weakness is connected so closely to our mind and soul, and their weaknesses? What does it say that our biggest disease (and these are physical diseases that WHO studied) is one that, at least partly, is remarkably meta-biological? Does it not show us how wanting we are of some cure for some spiritual disturbance? Something invisible in us is out of whack.
What causes depression is certainly complex. Your brain, your community, your relationships, your spiritual health, your emotions, your psyche, your past experiences – all of these play a role. But, comb the psychiatry literature and everywhere you find the word isolation. This factor looms large in whether someone will suffer from depression or not. Some go so far as to say “depression is a disease of loneliness”. Not discounting the complexity or seriousness of depression, many of us are depressed because we are just lonely – not just bored-on-a-Saturday-night lonely, but chronically lonely. And it is this factor of social isolation (despite our “social networks”) which modern life in particular has allowed to run rampant.
The cold hard fact is that with all of the distractions of our way of life, friends are hard to come by. It seems as though having a friend should be something that is basically a given, doesn’t it? How could we, who know ourselves only in and through relationships, live any other way? It’s almost too saddening to really look at it in the face and admit it. But, consider that 1 in 10 British people may not have anyone they would call a friend, and tell me we don’t have some kind of problem with loneliness. Maybe this can help us understand a piece of that “something invisible in us” that is out of whack?
Perhaps this upsurge in loneliness, isolation and alienation is the result of a world – and our society in particular – that struggles to understand what love is and sometimes actively misunderstands it. To not know how to love is to not know how to be a friend and vice versa. Friendship is only friendship to the extent that it is love. Friendship finds its birth and daily renewal in love. If we don’t know how to love, we won’t have the capacity to be a friend. Being a good friend is the same thing as being a good lover.
Does this not make our mission clearer? If this is indeed an age of isolation, an age when the swords of the Enemy have been most pointedly aimed at severing relationships (or the possibility of relationships), then one of the most heroic things anyone can do in our time is to just to be someone’s friend. Careers, degrees, projects and lives ordered toward “problem solving” are great, but without love we are nothing. What more significant way to love is there than friendship? We can radically love in a very practical way by doing whatever we can to help ease the isolation and loneliness of those around us even if they aren’t in our “inner circle.”
Though modern life tries to act otherwise, life has been, is and will remain pretty simple. In fact, modern life demonstrates it more clearly than ever: we are simply hungry for love and for some way to see God. That’s it. And so the remedy is also very simple. It turns out being heroic and achieving greatness is right at everyone’s fingertips. So take up the challenge! It’s simple, but it ain’t easy. Do what you can to combat the isolation and loneliness of your friends, family, co-workers and random strangers – everyone in your life. Love alone works and love alone will last. Go drench the desert of isolation.