This week, I listened to Andrew Weil on the radio as I was driving to Vermont to spend some time in the woods. His new book, “Spontaneous Happiness," explores the relationship between modern post industrial society and depression. I like Dr. Weil’s writings because he is an ‘evidence based’ practitioner of integrative medicine. He appeals to my scientific training. His messages challenge me to reach beyond the medical model of health care to really think about how we achieve health.
Research finds that depression is an illness of post modern societies. In the US, the rate of depression in Old Order Amish is one-tenth that of the rest of America. In Papua, New Guinea, a hunter/gather society, no depression is reported. Richard Louv has coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ in the diagnosis of behavior problems in kids who never get outside. Andrew Weil argues that our brains are not wired for continuous information overload. He postulates that modern emotional distress may be related to an absence of the experience of long vistas, the quiet of the woods, (I particularly love it dampened with the sound scattering effect of a snowfall), the socialization of spending time with others telling stories, and the specific vitamins associated with nature – vitamin D form the sun and omega 3 fatty acids from fish.
American health care is the most expensive on earth, and Massachusetts health care is the most expensive in America. Yet our outcomes are not anywhere near what other countries can produce, and behavioral problems account for a huge proportion of primary care visits. Could it be that the medical model has doctors using the prescription pad when other interventions work better, ie: “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail…”
In my own life, when I need to recharge myself I head for the woods. I learned that from my father who frequently took me fishing in remote areas. My children enjoy backpacking, fishing and skiing. Weil tells us that we need to remember who we are, and instead of turning to drugs for our moods, we should get outside, practice mindfulness and maybe take fish oil to achieve an emotional seal level.
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