In “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?” (New York Review of Books, 2011), Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, discusses her rational for the dramatic rise of mental illness which she attributes to over-diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, pathologizing of normal behaviors, Big Pharma corruption of psychiatry, and the adverse effects of psychiatric medications. In July of 2013, Dr. Bruce Levine authored an article entitled, "Why the Rise of Mental Illness? Pathologizing Normal, Adverse Drug Effects, and a Peculiar Rebellion" offers other reasons,
"... our belief in “progress” has increased expectations that life should be more satisfying, resulting in mass disappointment. For many of us, society has become increasingly alienating, isolating, and insane, and earning a buck means more degrees, compliance, a**-kissing, s***-eating, and inauthenticity. So, we want to rebel. However, many of us feel hopeless about the possibility of either our own escape from societal oppression or that political activism can create societal change. So, many of us, especially young Americans, rebel by what is commonly called mental illness."
There is no question mental illness is dramatically on the increase in the United States, ironically the most powerful and wealthiest nation in the world with the best medical care (until Obamacare.) Severe, disabling mental illness has dramatically increased in the United States. Marcia Angell, in her 2011 New York Review of Books piece, summarizes:
“The tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007—from 1 in 184 Americans to 1 in 76. For children, the rise is even more startling—a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades.”
And there are other indicators. In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, spoke to the National Press Club about an American depression epidemic:
“We discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there is now between ten and twenty times as much of it as there was fifty years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person’s problem. When I first started working in depression thirty years ago… the average age at which the first onset of depression occurred was 29.5… Now the average age is between 14 and 15.”
In 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that antidepressant use in the United States has increased nearly 400% in the last two decades, making antidepressants the most frequently-used class of medications by Americans ages 18-44 years. By 2008, 23% of women ages 40–59 years were taking antidepressants.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), on May 3, 2013, reported that the suicide rate among Americans ages 35–64 years increased an alarming 28.4% between 1999 and 2010 (from 13.7 suicides per 100,000 population in 1999 to 17.6 per 100,000 in 2010).
The New York Times reported in 2007 that the number of American children and adolescents treated for bipolar disorder had increased 40-fold between 1994 and 2003. In May 2013, CDC reported in “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children—United States, 2005–2011,” the following: “A total of 13%–20% of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year, and surveillance during 1994–2011 has shown the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing.”
There are unquestionably multiple factors influencing the striking rise of mental illness in the United States (i.e., over-prescription of medication [i.e., Ritalin for children], adverse effects of medication, breakdown of the family unit, loss of societal order, debt, hopelessness, poor health, the rise of terrorism, etc.) But I believe there is one powerful factor in play, increasingly ignored in our "enlightened" secular culture.
Certainly not all mental illness is demonically-related. But Scripture clearly and emphatically declares that some is (i.e., Matt 17:14-18). Historically for most of the 20th century, demonic activity of this type was encountered in nations overseas where the gospel had not yet significantly penetrated.
Light, by nature, drives back darkness. Darkness is literally nothing; it is the absence of light. The presence and influence of the gospel, by its very nature, drives back the darkness of demonic activity. In other words, where the gospel of Christ is prevalent, demonic activity is suppressed. The increasing influence of the secular, liberal agenda in America, combined with an expanding rejection of the Christian worldview and an an embrace of the occult, along with a dramatic immigration increase of peoples from foreign countries where the gospel is not central in the native culture have all contributed to a rise in demonic activity. The rejection of the Biblical worldview together with an enveloping secular worldview, skyrocketing drug use, escalating violence, increasing prevalence of homosexuality, more diverse forms of sexual debauchery and perversion, rise in suicides, rabid embrace of abortion by some on the left (i.e., Nancy Pelosi calling it "sacred ground"), addiction to pornography, and loss of a moral compass are all symptoms of a culture drifting deeper and deeper into moral darkness and becoming more susceptible to the demonic.
The Roman Catholic Church, with its formal rite of exorcism reports a sharp increase of demonic activity in America over the last 4 years. So great is the demand for exorcism, the Roman Catholic Church’s top exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth (88 years old) is calling for relaxation on the current limits on priests performing exorcisms. In Roman Catholic theology, only certain priests are trained in the rite for a formal exorcism under Section 13 of the Rituale Romanum. Amorth wants rank and file priests trained to perform the rite and lift the requirement of approval from church leaders.
In contrast to the Roman Catholic perspective though, in the evangelical Biblical worldview (mine), any believer is empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit to confront demonic activity. However effective confrontation requires spiritual maturity in Christ, wisdom and discernment. Earlier I addressed confronting the demonic here. As I concluded there, many Christians in the Western church don’t know how to recognize and respond to subtle forms of demonic activity — let alone the more increasingly prevalent open forms as our culture abandons the Judeo-Christian ethic and openly embraces paganism. But all Christians, whether they know it or not, are equipped to confront the demonic with the authority they have in Christ.
As evil rears its ugly head ever higher amidst our culture, expect the problem to worsen. Only the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ is empowered to drive back this tide of darkness. Everything else is futile.