Men in Western countries are in a crisis according to many benchmarks of mental health and financial success.
So Brad Pitt’s new space drama, Ad Astra, is a timely playbook for conquering depression. If you follow the sequence of actions taken by the main character, Major Roy McBride, you’ve got the game plan for tackling life’s deepest problems.
Male Workforce Participation, Educational Attainment and Mental Health In Crisis
There can be no doubt that there’s something fragile about today’s generation of men. Workforce participation for males in the prime of their life are at staggering lows.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May 2018:
“The participation rate for men has declined substantially since the 1960s and the decline has accelerated in recent years. The economic consequences of men’s nonparticipation in the labor force may be significant in coming decades.”
The Mercatus Center at George Mason University points out that men aren’t being turned away. Instead the swelling number of non-participating men in their working prime aren’t actively seeking employment. They just don’t want to work.
There’s also a major and growing higher education gap between women and men. In the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, women dominate higher education. Fewer men are enrolling. As a result, even fewer are graduating with college degrees. The difference is most stark in the social sciences. Some 75%-80% of these departments are made up of women.
In addition, male depression is on the rise. For the first time in history it appears there are more depressed men than women. Calibrating the psychometric criteria has brought these data into greater relief. An epidemic of video game addiction doubtlessly contributes to male depression and anxiety. Video game addiction statistics break down 94% male.
Brad Pitt’s Playbook in Ad Astra
Brad Pitt produced and stars in Ad Astra. He plays Roy McBride an astronaut who is fearless. U.S. Space Command performs constant psych evaluations that measure his vitals as he describes his mental state. SpaceCom notes multiple times that his pulse rate barely moves even under stress.
The movie opens with McBride on a spacewalk on the International Space Antenna, a tower that reaches suborbital height. A catastrophic power surge unleashes explosions all over the tower sending McBride into free fall toward the Earth. Depression and anxiety can often feel like spinning in free fall.
Depressed people suffer from an emptiness or hopelessness that leaves them without direction. So they suffer from a lack of energy to move in any direction, in serious cases, even to complete small daily tasks. Another symptom of depression, according to the Mayo Clinic, is, “Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things.”
The OODA Loop in Ad Astra
But McBride remains fearless under pressure. He takes practical action despite the overwhelming challenge he faces. He might have been using the OODA Loop.
The OODA loop is a mental model developed by John Boyd, a decorated 20th century fighter pilot and military strategist. It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. It’s a vital process for combat pilots, who have to made life or death decisions in a matter of seconds under the most extreme physical and mental stress.
When challenged and feeling overwhelmed, instead of panicking and going into free fall, we can stop and observe our situation. Then we can orient ourselves in it, which to Boyd is a process of connecting with reality. Then we can make a decision and act.
Action immediately follows decision-making. The OODA Loop is action-oriented. Action is the test phase of the process. It tests how well the pilot performed at the first three phases of the loop. So the OODA loop is a recursive string of experiments.
After falling to Earth, McBride rises further from it than any man or woman before him, except his father. He pilots a starship to Neptune to rescue his father from the Deep.