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The global epidemic of silent despair cannot be cured with vaccines

In the middle of the 19th century, in his famous work Walden, the transcendental essayist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote the following: "The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation." And although many years have passed since 1854 to date, that despair has not only deepened, but has become global.

Thoreau characterized that despair (here I paraphrase, I do not quote) as this constant nagging feeling of wasting our life and, simultaneously, the growing frustration of not wanting or not being able to do anything to change that situation. In other words, it is the desperation of living trapped between immobilizing fatalism and the future that never came.

In the specific case of the United States, a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 90 percent of adults surveyed believe that a mental health crisis is currently affecting the entire country. In fact, according to experts from the foundation, this crisis is already detected in 8-year-old children, who need treatment for anxiety.

What are the causes of this mental health crisis, or silent despair, that now afflicts all of humanity and that began, not coincidentally, with the spread of the Industrial Revolution almost two centuries ago?

Obviously, the limits of this column do not allow us to offer a complete answer, so we will only quote the Spanish psychologist Marina Pinilla, who, in a recent article (August 2022) for the site, states that we all now suffer from “accelerated thinking syndrome” due to the constant stimulation created by current technology.

In other words, almost the entire population of the planet is affected by "the impossibility of disconnecting" from work, from society, from obligations and even from oneself. This hyperstimulation (for example, social networks and smartphones) creates a "psychological precariousness" that prevents us from "connecting with what really matters".

The problem is obviously not new. 2,500 years ago, at the very beginning of Western civilization, Heraclitus stated at the beginning of his book that human beings live disconnected from "what is" (the "important matters" mentioned by Pinilla), so we live clinging to our own illusions, which we confuse with reality.

Centuries later (4th century of our era), in another context, Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani expressed (Berakhot 55b) that human beings, far from seeing reality, only see our own thoughts, or, even better, we only see our own thoughts. dreams, coinciding with Heraclitus (Fragment 1) that we live asleep, although we believe that we are awake.

What a paradox! In a world where everything requires our attention, we pay no attention to anything. In a world in which all the information of our interest is at our fingertips, wisdom is further away than ever. In a world where everything and everyone is interconnected, we are further apart from each other than ever before in history.

Because of that, we live lives of quiet desperation, because we can only change something (a thought, a belief) once we realize we can and must change it, as Carl Jung said. 


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