Frame of Reference

The other night I was seeing some friends.  In many cases, there comes a time in the conversation that a psychology question is introduced.  This seems to be the case especially with newer people I have met and learn to find out that I am in the field of psychology. I do not mind people talking to people about psychology. I do enjoy hearing other’s perspectives and having conversation about it. 

This one conversation was very interesting to me and thought I would share. I would like to make a side note in this article that I am talking about anxiety or depression that is environmentally related, not about people with a biological mental illness.   I will start with some background.  My friend that I was talking to grew up in a small country in Africa. He had experienced not having enough food, water, enduring war. His question was about trying to understand why depression, and anxiety are so prevalent in America.  From his point of view, it made little sense that these disorders were so prevalent due to his life experiences.  My understanding to his question is about each person’s point of reference.  Every person has different life experiences that mold them in their outlook on life.  Although it would make sense from my friend’s point of view that there should be less depression and anxiety in America, most American’s have not lived in a war torn country plagued with severe poverty.  Because this is the case, how can we as Americans even begin to really integrate and understand what this type of life is like? Since most of us cannot understand this type of life, we only have our own experiences to go by.  This is what frame of reference is all about. 

Each person has an overall expectation of what their life is like. When things go wrong, challenging situations occur or if there is a negative unexpected event, this can contribute to environmental anxiety or depression. Since each person has different expectations and viewpoints of life, there can be different reactions to the stress regardless of the severity of the situation.  The severity of the situation is relative to each person’s life experience. It does not mean that it is wrong to feel anxiety or depression. This is one main reason why Americans can suffer with depression and anxiety while situations are worse in other parts of the world.  So, when you are feeling down about a situation in your life, it is alright to feel that way. It all goes back to frame of reference.


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