A depression inducing society?

Factors contributing to depression include chronic stress, isolation, lack of control, and a sense of inferiority. They also include depressed thinking habits such as all-or-nothing thinking, perfectionism, and disappointment insurance or cynicism. A depression-inducing society would be one in which these factors were widespread or even promoted.

Globalisation and global culture

IsolationModern global culture is heavily influenced by western individualism, and by powerful commercial forces promoting consumerist and materialist values. The emphasis is on individual satisfaction of ‘needs’ which are increasingly defined commercially through advertising. Some of the effects of this are:

Values of social responsibility, connection to others and community (eg. church, village and town life) are weakened. Where ‘independence’ is highly valued, appropriate reliance on others can become stigmatised as ‘dependence’. All this can leave individuals increasingly isolated and unsupported.

Lack of control

While cultural values of individual choice and responsibility are promoted, in reality individuals feel ‘smaller’ in a bigger world and less able to influence the major decisions affecting their environment. Governments concede control to multinational corporations, political parties homogenise and voter apathy and cynicism spreads.

Unrealistic comparisons

Media-saturation celebrates unattainable superstar lifestyles and airbrushed perfection, so that social comparisons are no longer local and realistic. Models whose body shapes are unattainable for the majority come to define ‘successful’ appearance. Even financially comfortable people compare themselves unfavourably when extreme wealth is attained by some and valued by most.


Unrealistic advertising slogans like “be the best” propagate depressed thinking habits like perfectionism. Increasingly being simply ‘ordinary’ feels like ‘failure’.

All-or-nothing thinking

In an increasing ‘blame’ culture, complex systemic causes are ignored in favour of pinning blame and seeking compensation. Risk aversion rises and absolute safety and certainty are demanded, with increasingly over-simplistic or all-or-nothing thinking promoted in tabloid media.

Cynicism and meaninglessness

In a sea of commercial messages about what we want, we lose sight of what actually makes us happy, much of which cannot be bought. The meaning is drained from life as cynicism becomes ‘cool’ and hope ‘na├»ve’.

Chronic stress

All of these factors contribute to chronic stress in their own right. They also contribute to a climate in which seeking help is stigmatised. Cynicism and risk aversion make it difficult to invest hope in any sources of help. A double bind is set up whereby seeking help becomes a marker of “low status”, exacerbating a sense of inferiority. What does it say about a society’s values when people regularly conclude that suicide is preferable to seeking any form of support or help?

So what?

Of course, there are also many positive aspects to modern society. What is the point of highlighting how our society might contribute to depression in this way? You might think as an individual you can do nothing to change these social factors…

What you can do is critically evaluate the influence of these social factors on your own values and assumptions, deciding which are useful to you and which are not. You may also like to look more specifically at the social factors relevant to life as a student.

Next: Depression and the meaning of life


Depression sociology
Student stress & depression
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