Steven Rose on the depression epidemic

In his 2005 book, The 21st Century Brain, neurobiologist Professor Steven Rose notes that “the net of mental distress and disorder has been cast ever wider as the psychiatric community seeks to classify as aberrant, or diseased, more and more aspects of the human condition.” He goes on to say:

“By far the broadest disease categories, now regarded by the World Health Organization as a global epidemic, are those of depression and anxiety (affective disorders). Forty-four million Americans are said to be suffering from depression, with women three times as likely as men to be diagnosed with it. Estimates of its prevalence range widely, with up to 20 per cent of the world's population said to be clinically depressed, and the figures are steadily increasing.

What are the origins of this epidemic? How can it be that the three billion years of evolution that have generated the human brain have produced an instrument seemingly so superb, yet also so readily disturbed, so easily made dysfunctional? Is this vast psychiatric caseload the inevitable downside of the creativity and cognition that so conspicuously characterises our species?”
[ page 224]

Steven Rose didn't cite a source for the statistic of 44 million Americans suffering from depression, but if anxiety disorders and depression are added together the official figures from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) are higher [ link ].

Some individuals may be categorized with more than one diagnosis. Mild depression persisting for at least 2 years is labeled 'Dysthymic Disorder'. The chart below shows 2005 data (updated in 2010).

Can it be true, as bio-psychiatrists would have us believe, that depression and virtually all other mental disorders are the result of ‘genetic predispositions’ ? If so, then to be a member of Homo sapiens is to be a member of the species which best proves that genetic evolution can go haywire. What other animal has such a high chance of developing some type of mental disorder during its lifetime? Steven Rose clearly doesn't find the orthodoxy of ‘genetic predispositions’ adequate, and asks the question:

“Have our minds and brains simply become out of kilter with, unable to cope with, the complexity of modernity, the pace of technological change and globalisation?”

Regarding the apparent epidemic of ADHD among children in the US, he notes that until recently, British child psychologists were diagnosing ADHD at only one-tenth the rate found among young Americans. Steven Rose asks:

“Why? If the disease is hereditable, what distinguishes the US from the UK genotype? Alternatively, is there something especially disease-provoking in the way US children are reared?”
... ...
In any event, the UK, along with other European countries such as Sweden and Germany, is now catching up fast, although prescription rates are still much lower than in the US or Australia”
[ page 261]

He restates his view on the depression epidemic a bit further on in the book:

“The sheer scale of psychotropic use, the level of anguish reflected in the WHO's estimates of the world-wide incidence of depression, speaks of a situation in which our minds are seriously out of joint with the environment in which they are embedded.”
[ page 283]