Monday, January 16, 2012
The Opinionater on The Age of Anxiety
Before I start, two things: 1) if you'd like to hear our interview with Dan Rodricks on WYPR today, go here. 2) If you've ever been forcibly certified to a psychiatric unit and you haven't taken our poll yet, please do so here. And now for our next post:
Over on the New York Times "Opinionator," Daniel Smith has an article called ""It's Still the Age of Anxiety. Or is it?" Smith talks about W.H. Auden's Pulitzer Prize winning1948 poem, The Age of Anxiety, (it's boring, he tells us, as well as 'illusive, allegorical and at times surreal') and he tells us about his own anxiety. Smith writes,
From a sufferer’s perspective, anxiety is always and absolutely personal. It is an experience: a coloration in the way one thinks, feels and acts. It is a petty monster able to work such humdrum tricks as paralyzing you over your salad, convincing you that a choice between blue cheese and vinaigrette is as dire as that between life and death. When you are on intimate terms with something so monumentally subjective, it is hard to think in terms of epochs.
And yet it is undeniable that ours is an age in which an enormous and growing number of people suffer from anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders now affect 18 percent of the adult population of the United States, or about 40 million people. By comparison, mood disorders — depression and bipolar illness, primarily — affect 9.5 percent. That makes anxiety the most common psychiatric complaint by a wide margin, and one for which we are increasingly well-medicated. Last spring, the drug research firm IMS Health released its annual report on pharmaceutical use in the United States. The anti-anxiety drug alprazolam — better known by its brand name, Xanax — was the top psychiatric drug on the list, clocking in at 46.3 million prescriptions in 2010.
Just because our anxiety is heavily diagnosed and medicated, however, doesn’t mean that we are more anxious than our forebears. It might simply mean that we are better treated — that we are, as individuals and a culture, more cognizant of the mind’s tendency to spin out of control.
Smith concludes that it's not the world we live in, and that it's perhaps dangerous to make that assumption. He notes, " If you start to believe that anxiety is a foregone conclusion — if you start to believe the hype about the times we live in — then you risk surrendering the battle before it’s begun."
What do you think? Are we more anxious than we used to be? And why is that? Is it the world we live in--now or in 1948? Or is it just our own personal psyches?
Note, the graphic above is from a book by Andrea Tome.