Here are a few headlines from recent classifieds which appeared in a single recent edition of the Washington Post: 'Are you depressed?' 'Irritable? Anxious? Sad?' 'Trouble Sleeping?' 'Moodswings?' 'Not enjoying life?' Strikingly similar editorial banners are seen in the paper's weekly health section pages, as they are in scores of other newspapers and magazines. America, it seems, is in a collective sulk. Workplace production losses, due to depressed workers, are said to amount to about US$44 billion a year. According to London-based The Economist, America boasts the world's largest economy. They are among the richest people on Earth. As tourists, they're the world's biggest spenders. While at home, they own the most TVs, telephones, cars, and the most computers too. By all accounts, the yanks also have the most social and political freedoms. So what are they all depressed about? Mostly, it seems, they're peeved about getting old. Tens of millions of the country's ageing adolescents - known to US sociologists as 'Baby Boomers', those people born between 1946 and 1960 - are now passing through the population like a grey-haired pig in a python. And as they begin to enter the much-dreaded middle-age, millions are feverishly hoping to fight off father time with mega-doses of vitamins and periodic bouts of plastic surgery. Refusing to accept the laws of biology the species known as grayus americanus spend endless hours producing puddles of sweat on Stairmasters in swanky million-dollar gyms, and guzzle litres of atrocious tasting (but free-radical reducing) carrot juice. Millions more wishfully read magazine articles with heartening headlines such as '90 isn't what it used to be!' and '50 is the new 30!' And popular television shows such as ABC's Extreme Makeover convince them that ageing is simply an option they can politely decline like an unwanted dessert. But when the magic protein potions and sticky workouts fail to stop the clock, boomers are increasingly taking the 'aesthetic procedure route' - i.e. cosmetic surgery. Last year, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 8.7 million Americans spent US$9.4 billion to have their faces, breasts and butts lifted - a near 300 per cent increase in the number of procedures performed since 1997. But as all the physical exertion and earnest financial investment fails to find the fountain of youth, Americans are getting depressed in increasing numbers. The country even boasts its own National Depression Screening Day - an annual event which started in 1993. Held each October, it's a day when people in all 50 states can stroll into selected college campuses, libraries or shopping malls, and take a quick checklist test to find out if they need help with depression. 'Many people don't realise they're depressed,' says Dr Douglas Jacobs, the screening day organiser. 'They have vague feelings - they're feeling down, they've lost interest in life, then there's a domino effect and it develops into depression.' And increasingly, when Americans are 'feeling down', they are turning up on doctors' doorsteps demanding powerful prescription anti-depressants, often even insisting on a specific brand; their physicians seldom say no. Indeed, it is now widespread practice for American drug firms to provide paid-for golf holidays or cruise vacations for doctors, where they'll also attend an afternoon lecture about the wonders of a drug maker's latest mood-enhancing pill. And rare now is the American doctor's office where a waiting room is not awash with stylish placards promoting the most popular anti-depressant medications. Consumer advocates feel that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has become far too cosy with America's huge pharmaceutical industry, perhaps not without reason. The US leads the world in the amount of prescription pills it pops and claims both the world's largest market share and five of the world's 10 largest drug makers: Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co, Pfizer, and Abbott Laboratories. Since 1997, the FDA has allowed US pharmaceutical firms to advertise directly to the public. The result is that on any given evening in America, TV commercials show clearly unhappy souls trudging along with their equally despondent dogs, squeezed in between advertisements for fried chicken chains. The soothing voice-over serenely says: 'Help is finally here. Ask your doctor for details.' According to the marketing research firm IMS Health, last year global sales of antidepressants totalled US$19.5 billion, with the lion's share prescribed by US doctors for the four most popular anti-depressants - Zoloft, Effexor, Prozac and Paxil. Despite the nationwide thumbs-up from doctors, patients themselves are slowly beginning to baulk. In a recent Wall Street Journal/Harris Health-Care poll, 46 per cent of those questioned thought anti-depressant products were being over-prescribed. Perhaps some are beginning to realise that one of the few advantages about being old is you don't get depressed about getting old.