I was catching up on an episode of No Stupid Questions from a couple of months ago titled How Simple Is Too Simple?
That’s what I really wanted to talk about — this embrace of the “magic bullet” way of thinking about the world, because I see it kind of everywhere I look. A lot of the work that I do with Freakonomics Radio, — or at least what I try to do — is to cut against that, to show that, while there is a virtue to simplicity, the world is complex. Moreover, even if a simple solution works, it will probably fail to work forever.
Dubner’s quote here is true of many of the things they go in to discuss in the episode, cancer treatments, crime rates, poverty, and COVID. No one thing is going to solve any of these things. The search for the one thing also creates a lot of unnecessary divisiveness because it’s not a choice of your solution versus my solution; it’s likely to be a little of both.
Angela Duckworth gave an example:
These are economists, who were testing interventions in a relatively poor population. I think it was Liberia. And what I remember taking from that paper was that they were smart to actually not only ask the question “Which is better?” But they actually had a group that got both, so they could look to see the effect of having a combination of therapy and a small cash grant, and I believe that was the group that actually, in the long run, did the best. And so, it’s not “either/or.” You know, my favorite go-to is “both/and.” And “both/and” is not single-cause, right? “Both/and” says there’s a lot going on here.
As I read about the mental health field and interact with folks on these topics online, I see this more and more. Some articles and studies offer solutions for mental health issues. Everything from diet and gut bacteria to exercise, CDB, meditation, and so on. There’s a new “solution” to depression and anxiety every day online. The thing is, some of these will work for some people some of the time. Eating healthier and exercising will help you feel better generally. Will it solve every mental health issue out there? Of course not. Anyone claiming to have the secret to solving every case of depression or bipolar is lying. There is no magic bullet that will solve something as complex as the mental health of millions of people around the world. As Angela says about poverty, “there’s a lot going on here.”
Mental health is complicated. The solution to one individual case is complicated. The solution to the lack of resources is complicated. Telling people to get more exercise, let alone selling them the diet and workout that will solve all their mental health issues, is a fraud, isn’t it? Saying that we simply need to give everyone free therapy without addressing the serious shortage of therapists is as well.
Anyone who suggests there is a simple solution to the mental health problem facing us as a country and the world is not to be taken seriously.