Does our modern world cause mental illness?

Does our modern world cause mental illness

It is well known that rates of mental health illnesses are on the rise. It has been like this for at least a few decades now.

One reason is greater awareness of symptoms. This is not only for people struggling but among health professionals too.

Then there has also undoubtedly been an increase in openness about suffering from a mental health condition. This is especially in the new millennium – with such as celebrities and social media opening up to talk about personal emotional problems.

But there is also a theory among many mental health experts that our 21st Century society and way of the world causes many mental health issues. Or at least strongly contributes to it.

There are certainly factors that are difficult to ignore. It helps to be aware of these in order to stop them having a negative effect.

Traditional media

Over the years, the traditional media that is newspapers, magazines, television and radio has without a doubt become more sensationalist. Particularly with television, there is also much more of it.

This is not only with the choice of channels but the fact that now there is TV available 24 hours a day. Every day.

With that much airtime to fill up, it’s one reason why we get so many negative stories. These can increase anxiety and depression.

The world seems to have become smaller too. This means that because of the increased access to news from around the world, we are constantly fed all the worst aspects of humanity and worst-case scenarios that have occurred or could happen.

Then we have a greater than ever number of celebrity stories in the media. Some people see this celebrity’s massive house and their flashy car and they think that’s what they should have. It creates anxiety, stress and depression.

Social media

There has also been the phenomenal rise in social media in the past two decades. It means there is now so much more to read and see, again 24/7.

Unfortunately a lot of it is negative and worrying.

As well, now we can all be photographers, cameramen and reporters. We can see footage, for instance, of terrible events that previously we’d never have seen. We have an avalanche of bad news. People can get addicted to the drama.

Social media has also definitely upped the pressure on most people. Take Facebook, which many people look at within minutes of opening their eyes every morning.

There before their eyes is someone who looks happier than they do. There is another person who is more successful, their life appears to be better.

We might know that they’re not revealing all. But our thoughts on what we see can create negative feelings.

Then there’s Twitter making people angry with the political views of strangers and politicians alike. Plus there’s such as Instagram, heaping pressure on people to look “perfect”.

We might know about filters that magic away wrinkles and so on. But sometimes we forget about those and just unfavorably compare ourselves.

It is another aspect of modern society that so many people seem unhappy with their looks. With such as Instagram a lot of people are on there and they’re really allowing it to damage them because they all think they should look like supermodels.

Today it’s not just women of course. There is huge pressure on men too.

It’s always wise to remember what President Theodore Roosevelt said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Then there are some people who are desperate for love and approval. So they post away on social media seeking more and more people to like what they post.

It can become an unhealthy addiction for external validation.

More population

By 1800 it had taken around 300,000 years for the world’s population to reach one billion. Only 220 years later it has increased nearly eight times.

In the past 50 years alone the population of the world has more than doubled.

At the same time, we now see much more of the world, whether that’s through some form of media or from travelling. Yet until the past few generations it was the norm not to live far from the place where you were born.

Many more of us had defined roles too. So such as if you were male and your father was one of the town’s carpenters, you’d most likely become a carpenter too.

Now we see what everyone else is doing and what they have. People are not so content with where they are and who they are in life.

We see more possibilities, which might not in itself be a bad thing. But it’s also true that the grass always seems greener on the other side…

Matt Haig wrote in his Notes on a Nervous Planet book, one of the world’s bestselling recovery books: “Don’t compare your actual self to a hypothetical self. Don’t drown in a sea of ‘what ifs’. Don’t clutter your mind by imagining other versions of you, in parallel universes, where you made different decisions.”

Less community

At the same time as the world’s population has increased, there is less community. Families live further apart than they used to, so support there is not what it was up until just a couple of generations ago.

Many people have children later in life, so they get stretched between caring for young children and their aging parents. Another side to that is there is less relief and support for the parents of young children with such as grandparents living far away.

As well, many communities that used to support each other have disappeared. This is from the fact that there is less church-going today, and that bars and small local shops are increasingly shutting down too.

In addition, entire industries that once created communities have all but gone. For instance, many automobile-manufacturing factories have closed down in the past few decades.

People used to have jobs for life. That gave them much more security than most people have today.

So while there may be more people than ever, people feel more isolated than at any time in history. Feeling disconnected from others is a big factor in many mental health problems.

People need other people: we’re not designed to be alone for so much time, we need to be in relationships. It’s like taking a piece of coal from a glowing fire – its warmth will swiftly dwindle until it finally goes out.

More pressure

This 21st Century world has upped the pressure. That is with the expectation of family and society.

Perhaps it’s because what we do with our life is more visible to more people now. Maybe it’s also because the cost of living has increased over the years.

It might also be that there are more parents attempting to fix their damaged selves through their children. This creates problems because a child may be pushed too far – such as that they get only A grades at school or else they’re told they’re a failure.

Then they can be pushed into doing something for the rest of their lives that they didn’t really want to do. They may do it – but it never feels that it’s their true purpose in life.

They know this deep inside. It can lead to depression.

Leading psychologist Carl Jung (1875–1961) made a point about family and society. He said that until you can ignore your family and your culture’s influence you can never find out who you really are – your real self.

Matt Haig wrote in Notes on a Nervous Planet: “Don’t do the work people expect you to do. Do the work you want to do. You only get one life. It’s always best to live it as yourself.”

We also put pressure on ourselves and so end up doing what we don’t want to do, or something that we even dread and despise. People stop recognizing who they are.


“Happiness is not good for the economy,” wrote Matt Haig in Notes on a Nervous Planet. “We are encouraged, continually, to be a little bit dissatisfied with ourselves.

“The whole of consumerism is based on us wanting the next thing rather than the present thing we already have. This is an almost perfect recipe for unhappiness.”

For example, adverts do their very best to tempt us to buy the latest electronic device, by trying to make it appear indispensable to living in the modern world. We’re bombarded with methods devised to make us want the next thing instead of being content with the thing we already have.

Insurance companies continually put worst-case scenarios in our faces. It can create a great amount of anxiety.

Modern Western life is now geared towards getting and having it all. Every time you turn on the TV and if you look at an advert or walk down the street and look at the billboards it’s always about more.

Many people around us do have the latest thing that we see advertised. It puts it in our minds…

We might have a cellphone that works perfectly well and that suits us fine. But then we see a few people with the latest model…

In the second of the Four Noble Truths, Buddhism says desire is a major cause of suffering and pain. If we live in a manner where we are constantly desiring and demanding it means we are living with continual dissatisfaction.

To counteract it we need to ignore the adverts, to not take any notice of it. But in the modern world, this is increasingly difficult with ads popping up everywhere.

Time was when you could go to bed and not have a commercial thrust at you. But now, because most of us look at our cellphones in bed, and adverts appear everywhere – we can fall asleep feeling unhappy that we don’t have this or that.

Of course, it’s a treat and can make us feel happy in the short-term to get something new. But it is worth noting that the word “want” derives from Old Norse vanta meaning to “be lacking”.

So if we are wanting all the time, perhaps we need to look at what we might be lacking inside ourselves.

Poet Sylvia Plath cleverly put it this way, as a warning: “Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing.”

Too much of everything

Our world has much more in it than ever before in its history.

Take music as an example. Of course it’s inevitable that there are more albums and tracks to choose now than there were in, say, the 1970s.

But they are also much more easy to listen to through such as our laptops and cellphones. Just compare how much space alone someone needed for their record collection in 1971 compared to the same amount of tracks in 2021.

We have today, whenever we have our cellphones, a choice of millions of songs to listen to – and that means making that choice of what we listen to can be actually much harder.

Similarly we have an array of ways that we can contact people and be contacted. It might make it easier to reach someone and to be reached, but it also makes it more complicated.

It means we are contacted much more than we used to be. It means that we can be contacted in bed whereas going to bed used to mean you could totally switch off from such as work.

There’s also more choice of food. This includes vast quantities of cheap food and fast food.

Some of this undoubtedly contributes to eating disorders. It also plays a part in people being overweight.

Being overweight in a society demanding perfection through such as Instagram is a tough place to be. It means many people, especially young people, smoke and/or take laxatives in an attempt to be “perfect”.

It can also negatively impact self-esteem and self-confidence. This can be a factor in depression.

Time ticking away…

Then because there is so much choice today – from music to books to movies to podcasts to YouTube and TV channels and an ever increasing number of things we can spend time on – we can feel as if there is constantly not enough time. Our ancestors living among nature as they used to did not have this problem.

It’s as if almost everyone wants to have everything done and dusted by the time they’re 30. Then if it’s not done by 30, it’s got to be done by 35. And then when they get to 40 it becomes 50, and so on…

Matt Haig put it in Notes on a Nervous Planet: “We often find ourselves wishing for more hours in the day, but that wouldn’t help anything. The problem, clearly, isn’t that we have a shortage of time. It’s more that we have an overload of everything else.

“Life can sometimes feel like an overproduced song, with a cacophony of a hundred instruments playing all at once. Sometimes the song sounds better stripped back to just a guitar and a voice. Sometimes, when a song has too much happening, it’s hard to hear the song at all.”

Presently there is also of course COVID-19 that means we are living in an era of uncertainty. This is increasing many mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression in those people already suffering.

It is also causing these conditions for the first time in many more. Thankfully, Tikvah Lake is in an area where there are relatively few COVID-19 cases, and we have adopted very stringent methods to avoid it becoming a problem at our center.

Without professional treatment, all types of mental health illness will almost certainly get progressively worse. They are extremely unlikely to go away if left untreated.

What happens much more commonly is that mental health illnesses will intensify and become even more painful. Normal living will get increasingly more difficult.

Our expert team has decades of experience in helping with all kinds of mental health problems. We have proven successful treatments that can help anyone in need, including our 30-90 Day Personalized Treatment Program.

Here in year-round sunny Florida, we’re in the perfect natural setting for relaxation and wellbeing. Our luxury mansion by our beautiful tranquil lake has been made with complete comfort in mind, including our bedrooms where you will be able to get a peaceful night’s sleep.

We would love to welcome you here as a guest, in our home that’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of much of the modern world. To discover how Tikvah Lake Recovery can help you or someone you care about, please get in touch with us today.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

Reader Interactions

Leave a comment