How do we tell if a person is emotionally disturbed? We study the symptoms. If a person suffers, for example, from a sleep disorder such as insomnia, an eating disorder such as anorexia bulimia, an addiction to alcohol or drugs, an impaired ability to work, to have relationships, or to learn, we diagnose him as being emotionally disturbed.
Ironically, the more disturbed a person is, the more he will generally be in denial that he has a disturbance.
We can also determine if a country is emotionally disturbed by studying the country’s symptoms. And the more disturbed a country is, the more likely the country will deny it has a disturbance.
Take America, for instance. America is among the most industrialized and therefore economically advanced countries, yet its rank with regard to many social indicators is surprising.
- · According to statistics collected by UNESCO, America ranked 46 in literacy-the percentage of people in a country who can read and write.
- · America ranked first in a survey by the World Health Organization of illegal drug use among seventeen industrialized countries.
- · America ranked first in obesity rates in the world, with 30% of American citizens reported to be over-weight.
- · America ranked first in crime rates among countries in the world. In fact, it had twice as much reported crime as the next highest country, The United Kingdom.
- · America had the highest divorce rate of all countries, with 50% of first marriages ending in divorce.
- · America, France and The Netherlands had the highest rate of depression, with 30% of the population reporting at least one episode of major depression in its lifetime.
- · America ranked third in sleep deprivation, with 37% of Americans reporting sleep problems.
These are just a few of the statistics, but they are enough to demonstrate that America suffers from a number of symptoms that can be related to an emotional disorder. And yet, I would bet that if you asked most Americans if America is emotionally disturbed, they would unequivocally answer, “No.” We want to think that our country is a great country, leader of the free world. But we are only leading the world in a military sense, in all these other ways we are not leading at all; instead, we are behind.
According to these statistics we are a troubled society and culture. Drug use, obesity, and sleep disorders are all indicators of stress. The high crime and divorce rates might be seen as indications of relationship problems. The low literacy rate points to the failure of our education system. The prevalence of depression is a sign of emotional instability. All of these factors might be traced to a breakdown of the family and the erosion of good parenting.
In contrast, Japan, which has one of the lowest crime, obesity and divorce rates of all industrialized countries, has a highly socialized population. Japan values intact families and puts an emphasis on parenting. By putting this emphasis on families and parenting, Japan keeps its culture relative emotional health.
As a college instructor, I have noted first-hand the decline of education in America. At an urban community college most of my students cannot write literate papers. Most are not motivated to be good students for the sake of being good students. They are motivated to do whatever they need to do to get their degrees. A great many of them have personal problems that distract them from doing well in any aspect of their lives. Maybe three or four students out of 35 will take their studies seriously, and these are often from Asian families, where education is taken more seriously. There is a high rate of absenteeism.
I am concerned about the decline of American society and culture. I am concerned about the decline of education. I am concerned about the decline in the quality of life. I am concerned that America, like Rome in its decline, is a military machine whose society has become soulless. It seems to be a society without a clear sense of itself and without clear goals. I fear for its future.
When an individual denies that he has a disturbance, the disturbance can only flourish. Wouldn’t it be the same for a country?
Only by looking at ourselves realistically can be hope to heal.
Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst, adjunct professor of psychology and author of 20 books.