Stone Age solutions to modern-day depression BY EDWARD M. EVELD McClatchy Newspapers
To confront the country's growing depression epidemic, a modern phenomenon, psychologist Steve Ilardi peered backward into human history. Way back: tens of thousands of years and beyond. His research steered him there, to an examination of the hunter-gatherer way of life, to a time when humans lived in roving, close-knit bands. Back to the Stone Age.
What he learned led Ilardi and his research team at the University of Kansas to propose a program to reclaim six disappearing lifestyle elements. They call it Therapeutic Lifestyle Change, intended to help modern humans deal with depressive illness.
The team identified factors that are antidepressant but are compromised by contemporary culture: Exercise, omega-3 consumption, light exposure, sleep, social connectedness and anti-ruminative behavior.
Depressive illness is more frequent in developed countries than in developing ones and is worse among city dwellers than among rural folks. The Amish have very low depression rates. An anthropologist who studied the Kaluli people, a modern-day hunter-gatherer group in Papua New Guinea, found only one case of depression. Like hunter-gatherers of old, the Kaluli lack modern comforts and medicine. They deal regularly with infant mortality, disease and violence.
Culturally the contrast with modern Americans is huge. Biologically, however, we're not so different, not even from the hunter-gatherer clans going back hundreds of thousands of years. Rapid cultural change is relatively recent, starting with farming, then city-building, then the technological explosion. So Ilardi asked: Are there built-in features of that ancient way of life that are antidepressant and that we need to reclaim?
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