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The world’s most depressed nation

Depressing reading
(view large)

The depressing stats continue, though perhaps that’s the wrong choice of word this week…

“It’s hard to believe but Americans are the unhappiest people on earth. That is the conclusion of a new study by the World Health Organization and the Harvard Medical School, which found that 9.6 percent of Americans suffer from depression or bipolar disorder — the highest rate of the 14 nations surveyed. Our ‘Prozac nation’ has a greater percentage of depressed people than war-torn Lebanon (6.6 percent); job-starved Mexico (4.8 percent); carefree, hedonistic Italy (3.8 percent); and overworked, socially rigid Japan (3.1 percent). And how’s this for a paradox: Nigeria, a land of desperate poverty, rampant corruption, and violent tribal conflict, had the lowest depression rate of all — just 0.8 percent. How can this be? One possibility is that when your life is a struggle for clean water and adequate food, you don’t have time to indulge in existential despair. In New York, on the other hand, a lawyer making $200,000 a year may find himself “depressed” if he doesn’t make partner in his mid-30s. It may also be that in less modern societies, people find comfort and meaning in their families, their religion, and their cultural traditions. Even for Americans, ‘such consolations still exist, though we no longer think of them as cures.’ Perhaps, in addition to Prozac, we should give them a try.”

Or my own personal suggestions:
Jump in a river
Sleep under the stars
Use your weekend
Read a good book

Read Comments

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  1. Hi Alastair,

    I love your blog, but what’s with the obsession about stories from issues of The Week circa 2007?

    The more recent issues have good articles too – they currently have an offer for SIX free issues 🙂

    • I gathered the cuttings when living in CA a little while ago, and sent them Al’s way recently… they seemed similar to what this section of the blog appeals to!

      So… that is why 🙂

  2. Unsurprising, but somewhat undercut by the author’s implicit belief that there are only 14 nations on Earth!

  3. I see the point that the author is trying make. It is a popular narrative, which feels right, and seems to be backed up with statistics. Another possibility the author doesn’t seem to address, however, is the chance that those countries which show seemingly low levels of depression may also have very high rates of un-documented depression.

    Here in Japan, mental health awareness is shockingly low, with many people I know unwilling to go to a counselor for fear of what friends and family might think, or what that might mean personally (such as admitting sickness or weakness). A very quick peruse of suicide rates by country ( shows Japan at number four, with the US much lower on the list, at 39. At the very least in the Japan case, I would be tempted to attribute the low incidence of reported depression as much to the lack of diagnosis as I would to some kind of societal balm that keeps people happy.

    Incidentally, there are numerous third-world countries on the list where certainly one could say that “life is a struggle for clean water and adequate food”, which are higher on the list of suicides per 100,000 people than the US.

    I agree that the high rate of depression in developed countries (such as my own home country, New Zealand) is alarming. And that one factor in that could be alienation from close, nurturing, trusting relationships. At the same time, I think that awareness about the issue (which will ultimately push the reported rates of depression up) is important.

    In any case, good on Bret Stephens for having a shot at explaining the phenomenon of depression in one long paragraph. If it gets people thinking about the issue, then that is great. I’d just be wary of the stats 🙂

  4. The WHO and Harvard Medical School, or at least the reporting of it and angle taken in this article, do not even remotely present a compelling case that the developing countries stated have lower happiness than the USA.

    There is no discussion of the extent to which Americans might characterise themselves as more depressed due to the culture of doing so, while stoic developing country people might actually feel greater depression of unhappiness but have less of a need to report it as such or characterise it as a condition (why report depression to your doctor in say a country that struggles to find medicine for AIDS or malaria; why queue up at a hospital to report depression in say an overwhelmed hospital full of slashed bodies during a civil war).

    Rob’s post covered some of this already.

    The conclusion that the US is the unhappiness place on Earth is a conclusion of someone who does not have the logical skeptical brain of a scientist or even market analyst and is a massive triumph of tacky line over substance. Such a conclusion cannot be made with any confidence at all. Even for such a light, short bite-like piece, it is a poorly analysed and written article.

    Of course, none of this is really that relevant to Al’s wider point in posting this series of articles.

    I believe from life experience that people in poorer countries are very marginally less happy on average than in richer countries, but am not foolish enough to say that with great confidence or believe that an easy statistical analysis can be produced to support that either way.

    • I agree with your cautious conclusion:
      I believe from life experience that people in poorer countries are very marginally less happy on average than in richer countries.

  5. Happiness is so hard to quantify. There are definately things you can do to be happier. Being compassionate and kind, helping others, smiling, appreciating the world and enjoying your time on it. It is not easy to provide statistical evidence of what makes people happier.

    This blog provides inspiration and encouragement in spades, but this doom-and-gloom series of posts are a rather lacking in a positive slant. It’s depressing to read and I expect it’s depressing to write. I would be much more interested to read about what you think would help or better yet what you are doing to help.

  6. This is a piece of crap filler “news” fluff not worthy of comment.

    1) only 14 countries
    2) Methodology?
    3) population sample?
    4) how happiness was quantified
    5) Underlying causes!!
    6) Wall Street lawyer as “typical” American
    7)Diversity within each country
    8) Context: weather, time of year, life event

    In other words, the article is meaningless drivel.



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