I don't know why Americans are experiencing more mental illness. I don't doubt that it's at least in part because there are more people trained to catch more diseases. I'm skeptical that Big Pharma is driving this by itself. I've worked with various mental health professionals over the years and none of them have treated their degrees as a license to be a Pez dispenser for psychotropic meds.
I think there is something fundamentally broken in our society. When I was in my early 20s, I suffered from depression. There were a lot of reasons for it, but once I started doing a job I loved and felt was important, I wasn't depressed anymore. And while I've certainly had my share of "the blues" over the years, I've never felt any episodes of depression since then were anything but transient responses to tough times.
Your life needs purpose and it needs to be full. Much of what we do in life has little purpose. I spent an hour yesterday filling out medical release forms for summer camps for the Things. It was pointless and frustrating. Most people have jobs like that, and while thankfully I don't I can see how if your job is processing medical forms in a radiologist's office, you might just feel depressed.
A hundred and fifty years ago, most Americans still lived on farms. Farm work is direct and has immediate purpose. It is tedious and hard, but it comes with a tangible result: fertilize, water and seed the field and you get food. Compare that to the abstraction of wage labor. Do a task that you probably don't see to its conclusion and you get money which you use to get the things you need.
All this applies to schools, too. My entire job as a teacher is to make learning relevant. The rest is detail work. Nobody gives a damn about Jackson's war on the Second Bank of the United States. But tie tie it in with the recent recession, and suddenly it means something. Still, I'm kidding myself if I think that connection resonates with all my students. I only hope I can catch their attention and interest once a day.
Because school, too, is a series of tasks that have no relevance to a person's life. No wonder kids are depressed when their work is unimaginative and simply dull repetition.