Friday, November 6, 2009

Are You in a Funk? Maybe It's Cultural . . . and Curable

Deuteronomy 6:1-8; Mark 12:28-34

Message: Uncommon Community

I was reading about a study done at Northwestern University that provides some fascinating findings about individualism, community and mood - especially depression. You can find the actual study HERE but, trust me, it can be depressing just to sort through the pyscho-lingo in these things. (I think that one day they'll do another study revealing that those who do these studies are more likely to be depressed). This wasn't a People magazine pop-poll sort of thing; it was a real, scientific, brain-mapping, chemical, genetic, confusing study.

They looked at genetic markers for depression. It turns out that some people have a specific "short allele - a depression gene," that predisposes them to depression. So one part of the study looked for any sort of correlation between cultures/races that have a bunch of these pesky short alleles. Here's what they found:

  • Some cultures have a significantly greater genetic predisposition to depression (the short allele)
  • Some cultures have much higher rates of depression

The study also looked at where cultures are on the spectrum of individualism vs collectivism. In other words, are collective cultures (those that are structured more towards the community than the individual) or individualistic cultures more prone to depression?

Then they smashed all the data into a fat computer and hit the "go" button. Here are the surprising results:
  • The culture with the genetic marker for depression has significantly lower rates of depression.
  • The culture that, genetically, should suffer lower rates of depression - is the the one full of depressed people.
Huh? What's going on? It turns out that the cultures with lower rates of depression are the ones that live in greater community. People's lives are tied together more; they inherently value collective harmony, expression and support each other much more. Perhaps community is an adaptive way of dealing with a genetic predisposition towards depression. In fact, something about these cultures - maybe the community they enjoy - heals or prevents depression to some extent. Amazingly, 80% of people from these collective-valuing cultures have the short allele that makes them more likely to suffer depression. Eighty percent!! But they aren't as depressed as the long-allele-ers.

The part you've probably guessed by now is that we in the western cultures - especially the United States - are the ones who suffer the greatest rates of depression, despite the fact that we don't have the big genetic predisposition to depression. Amazing. On the other hand, Asian cultures (and probably other collective cultures) have a high genetic predisposition towards depression, but suffer it far less than we do in the west.

The study raises many questions about cause and effect and what (countless) other factors might be involved. But one clear possibility is that we would all do well to live in greater community.

Hey, wait a minute - doesn't the bible say something like that too? What do you know.

- Curtis

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Thanks for posting!