You may be on top of your recycling responsibilities, choosing reusable shopping bags and riding your bike to work, but how’s your head? If your usual state is busy, stressed and needing some time out, you have some cleaning up to do. We all do. As individuals, we are directly affected by Western civilisation’s heady pace of life, and in between meditation sessions and yoga classes, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little unwell. We are overwhelmed by information technology, entertainment options and advertising overload, and it’s not letting up any time soon.
Like the civil rights, feminist and green movements of the late 20th century, the fight for a clean, healthy mental environment is shaping up as the defining human rights battle of the information age. Mental illness rates are higher in industrial societies than in the developing world. Just as industrial societies produce physical toxins that contaminate the natural environment affecting your physical health, they also produce psychological toxins and pollutants that harm your mental health.
Part of the difficulty in dealing with the problem is that it’s not obvious. The health department won’t take your call over this one. Yet subtle pollutants like television commercials, excessive noise and electromagnetic vibrations, combined with aggressive, subliminal marketing techniques, all contribute to the state of ill-health in Western society today.
The “mental ecology” is a psychological term that refers to the harmonious, balancing and sustaining development of humankind, while the “mental environment” refers to the sum of all societal influences on mental health. The reality is that today you are influenced from every direction. According to studies by the Mental Health Council of Australia, each year around 100,000 young Australians experience anxiety or depression and more than 60 per cent of these people don’t seek professional help. The World Health Organization also predicts that by the year 2020, depression will become the second-highest global burden of disability.
Some have called this an “epidemic of despair” heralding “an age of melancholy” in the West. Scientists are busily researching whether it’s some chemical in our food or just the fast pace of urban living, or whether it has something to do with this electronic environment we exist in today. With this influx of information, could you expect not to lose clarity of mind?
Researchers are busily questioning the causes of mental toxicity — is it the violence on TV, the numbing of our emotions through media shock tactics, dissatisfaction at the unending hype-and-letdown cycle, or empty gratification through buying more “stuff”?
Perhaps it is the sum of all of these and more. In evolutionary psychology, mental ecology research substantiates that the toxic consequences of a poor mental environment are caused by the disharmony between the mental environment humans evolved to exist within and the one we experience today. Put simply, we’re out of touch with the environment we were designed for. It’s all too complicated and it’s making us ill. If you feel like you’re being driven crazy with the non-stop stimuli of modern life, you’re not alone.