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Randy Alcorn: The Craziest People on the Planet

With America's culture of lies and deceptions, it's little wonder so many of us suffer from mental misery

A recent international survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health found that the incidence of bipolar disorder (aka manic-depression) is nearly twice as high in the United States as elsewhere. Corroborating these findings is data showing that since 1988, prescriptions for antidepressant drugs have doubled about every three years in this country. Americans now take antidepressant drugs more than they do any other prescription drug. Additionally, Americans make extensive use of alcohol and illegal drugs to ameliorate the angst of just being alive.

The world’s wealthiest nation, with the highest standard of “material” living, is apparently not the happiest place on earth. Meanwhile, India, with its hundreds of millions of impoverished people, has the lowest incidence of bipolar disorder. As Lou Reed famously observed, “Two TV sets, two Cadillac cars, ain’t helping us at all.”

Sociologists, psychiatrists and philosophers are pondering what might be the cause of America’s fragile mental health. The demise of ancient Rome’s mental health is blamed on the pervasive use of lead plumbing. Maybe the blame in modern America goes to cell phones, insomnia and sugar. Maybe world-class depression is just another part of American exceptionalism.

But, maybe the source of Americans’ increasing mental anguish is that Americans live in the world’s most treacherous economic jungle, where personal worth is measured by net worth, and where lurking economic cannibals lay traps to ensnare wallets that they shrink and hang like trophies from their money trees. These traps are baited with Americans’ aspirational fixation to be, or at least appear to be, among the economic elite. In large part, the current Great Recession was precipitated by this wanna-be obsession. The sub-prime mortgages that enticed people to finance more house than they could afford and the trillions of dollars in credit-card debt that Americans incurred to live beyond their means were traps set by Wall Street cannibals and into which stepped millions of imprudent, class-conscious Americans.

Driven by the American Dream, which has come to mean having more stuff than the guy next door, the pursuit of happiness is ever-elusive because someone always has more, and there is always more to have. Unrealized expectations and economic set backs devastate self-esteem in a society that mercilessly measures status by dollars. Americans are always fretting over how to make more money or worried about losing what they have. No wonder antidepressants sell so well.

Aggravating Americans’ mental funk is a culture of insincerity. Like a miasmic stench, insincerity emanates from our economic jungle and assaults Americans with exaggerations, preposterous promises and outright lies all aimed at extracting their money — earned or borrowed. How often does any product or service actually perform as advertised? Is your Internet service really “blazingly fast”? When you have an insurance claim are you really in “good hands”? Is your bank one you never have to “think about”? Does that big oil company “really care” about the environment? Are the “friendly skies” all that friendly?

Deceit, dishonesty and hypocrisy are all common currency in business, politics and even religion. Corporations promote enhanced images of themselves and their products that are misleading at best, fraudulent at worst. Politicians are, of course, inveterate liars, sometimes even starting and continuing wars based on lies. Priests molest children and the church covers it up. And, of course, all those folks who live beyond their means are living a lie.

When so much commerce and communication cannot be trusted, when someone’s word is as likely to be a lie as a bond, when the motive for almost everything is acquisitive, can any society avoid widespread mental misery?

— Santa Barbara political observer Randy Alcorn can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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