Liah Greenfeld’s book Mind, Modernity, and Madness: The Impact of Culture on Human Experience, is one of the most important books I’ve read in the last 20 years. She provides an account of the epidemic of anxiety, depression, and even bipolar and schizophrenia based on the growing pressures to create a personal identity over the past 500 years. In recent decades, these pressures have become even more severe, with social media exacerbating the fundamental underlying trends. As an educator, she and I share a deep commitment to the role of healthy identity formation in adolescence. Listen to this dialogue between she and I to understand some of the details of her account and how they apply to education.
ATI is deeply devoted to the conscious development of personal identity in adolescence, especially through our Life Design and Socratic programs. We do not yet have rigorous evidence that we are reducing anxiety and depression, but anecdotally we often hear that we do.
For those who think of depression, etc. as primarily genetic, a better way to view these functional mental illnesses as due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Thus just as diabetes has a genetic component but also has an environmental component (don't eat too many refined sugars!), so too an evolutionary mismatch between a teen's social and emotional needs and the social environment of an impersonal or hostile schooling environment can exacerbate underlying dispositions and result in clinical anxiety and depression.
Dr. Liah Greenfeld is a professor of sociology, political science, and anthropology at Boston University. She is the author of eleven books, including "Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity" (Harvard University Press, 1992) and "The Spirit of Capitalism: Nationalism and Economic Growth" (Harvard University Press, 2001).