Capitalism and depression (+How it causes depression)

This article will discuss how the capitalist system we have been inserted into injured people’s mental health. The article will show that beyond the scientifically known causes of depression, there are some factors in the state of things that can also harm our mental health, leading to depression.

How capitalism can lead to depression? 

Capitalism, and the constant worry about success, money, and production, can be overwhelming to a point it can lead people to depression. Although scientifically it has been established that depression can be related to genetics, or a chemical imbalance in the person’s brain, it also seems to be extremely connected to the way we have been living as a society.

And even though every year there is news saying that the standard of living has been increasing, there have never been so many cases of depression. In Denmark, for example, a country that is often said to be one with the highest level of quality of life, the diagnosed cases of depression have been growing with each passing year.

As of 2011, 450 thousand Danish were on antidepressants, double the number of people from a decade before. And this seems like global trade, especially in Western cultures. In the United States, 7,1% of the adult population is depressed, adding up to more than 17 million people.

This quick spread of mental illness has caused the World Health Organisation (WHO) to state that depression is one of the primary reasons for disability and suicide. The organization also said that the condition is affecting around 350 million people all over the world.

As with Denmark, in other countries the consumption of antidepressants has only increased, making the sales of SSRIs antidepressants lead to more than $14billion a year. 

Being that depression is such a huge problem, it is extremely important to understand how capitalism may be leading to that. It is necessary that instead of looking at it only through an individualized lens, we look at this matter more socially. 

People need to stop thinking they are responsible for their happiness, hence their unhappiness as well. Which can lead people to despair. 

The Danish sociologist Emilia van Hauen has been putting the responsibility of the person’s happiness on themselves, which can be extremely detrimental. On her homepage, there is this message:

“Happiness is a personal responsibility. Happiness is not something you can expect to get from others. Everybody has the key to their happiness. And hence also the responsibility to put the key in the right lock. Happiness is created from the inside, it is not other people’s responsibility to make us happy, it is our responsibility. Just as we cannot change other people, only ourselves.”

An author that has written plenty about this matter, Mark Fisher, has said in his book Capitalist Realism, released in 2009, that people may become depressed because they realize that capitalism is the only viable economic system. 

And that is asked of us so much, that it affected the person’s mental health. Mark Fisher, who suffered from depression himself, and ended his own life, said that this system has led him to believe he was good for nothing. The high expectation, and the need to answer what capitalism asks of you, can be overwhelming.

This system leads people to constantly worry about making more and more money. To find ways to survive and make do with the least of dignity, which sometimes can be hard. It forces people to validate themselves through their careers, and sometimes take jobs they feel are diminishing just as a way to survive.

And when Mark Fisher chose to come clean about his struggles, he said he did so as a way of showing there is more to depression than what is explained in a psychiatric diagnostic manual. 

It is not all related to the person’s brain chemistry, there is a social structure to it. Individualizing the matter can even cause depressed people to blame themselves for their condition.

But when saying that, one needs to be careful to not assume that only by fixing political and economic matters, people won’t get depressed anymore. What is being said here is that depression is not only an individual matter, but it is not only social either. Otherwise, everyone would be depressed.

It is important to validate how unbearable depression can be. How it takes away the person’s interest and any perspective they may have had in life. It brings emotional, but also intense physical pain. And that needs to be addressed. 

Another thing to take into consideration is the diagnosing and medicalization process our society has nowadays. This ample prescription of antidepressants, which are not only used to treat depression, leads us to ask ourselves why we have been so dependent on the diagnosis of depression.

Although a lot of people may have the condition, it seems that the capitalist system also tends to lead us to think and try to behave like machines. And being diagnosed with depression, and taking medication for it, will quickly exclude the sadness one may feel.

But this makes it impossible for people to deal with their sadness, which is a basic human emotion. Stepping away from the capitalist way also means moving past this industrial line of thought. It implies not taking the quick answer, that you feel this way because there is an imbalance in your brain. 

Embracing emotions, and understanding the difference between sadness and depression, maybe a little way out of this system. And a way to make yourself look deeply at your life, and the context you are inserted in.

Understanding that sadness is a common reaction, and that is usually fleeting, and mostly related to one specific aspect or event in your life, while depression tends to take a toll on all aspects, and will last longer, allows the person to handle their emotions better.

As said by Mark Fisher in his Capitalist Realism:

“All mental illnesses are neurologically instantiated, but this says nothing about their causation. If it is true, for instance, that depression is constituted by low serotonin levels, what still needs to be explained is why particular individuals have low levels of serotonin. This requires a social and political explanation, and the task of repoliticizing mental illness is an urgent one if the left wants to challenge capitalist realism.”

Capitalism and depression (+How it causes depression)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): How capitalism can lead to depression? 

How can capitalism impact my sense of self-worth?

 Capitalism usually implies that you are only as valuable as what you produce. This means that if you are not producing as well or as much as what is asked of you, you can begin to feel worthless. This central thought in capitalism is what is usually connected to people becoming ill.

Once you feel you need to prove yourself too much to others, you might start to behave in some harmful ways. For example, you can begin to study until late or go through an excessive workload. 

You may put yourself through many stressful situations to try and prove your worth, and you can neglect your self-care. For example, you may sacrifice a good night of sleep, or eating well, to do some extra work in your company.

How does depression impact the economy?

As cases of depression have become more and more common, society is starting to notice how it can have a huge impact on the economy. It often leads employees to be disabled, which will take them out of their work. This means that depression will have a huge impact on the economy.

And the economy is not only affected by depression on the disability matter. There is a cost that comes with the high rates of absenteeism that depression brings. And before all that, there is the cost of screening to discover who has depression, the treatment this person will need, how to maintain this person doing their job, and how to be supportive of their needs.

How can I distance myself from the capitalist mindset?

Although it can be extremely hard to set yourself apart from the system we are in, there are some things you can do. Trying to look at people, and yourself, through their individuality, meaning that you won’t just see people for what they can produce, is a way out of that mindset.

Congratulating yourself on the journey you have been on, without comparing yourself to others is a great way to step out of the capitalist mindset as well. Giving value to your process, and understanding that you won’t necessarily always be in this place, but that this is an important moment in your life, will help you greatly.

How can I cope with the negative things on the news?

Watching the news nowadays can put you face to face with a lot of negative things. If that is happening to you, know that you can cope with that by avoiding watching things that will trigger negative emotions in you. 

Keep in mind that even though it is important to keep yourself informed, you shouldn’t do that at the expense of your mental health.

You should also have some boundaries. Determine what is your limit to news exposure, and avoid consuming more of it than you can handle. The same is said about social media. Nowadays people get a lot of news from there. So care for how much you expose yourself, and only get news from trustworthy sources.

Keep in mind that it is normal for the news to, unfortunately, feel overwhelming. But you should try to find ways to manage your stress. It can be by exercising, meditating, or even doing things you love. This will help you keep in mind that life is not all negative.

What is the most well-known capitalist country?

The United States may be the most known country for its capitalist system. In that culture, the work you do says a lot about who you are, and people are often looking to make the “American Dream” a reality. This implies that people tend to work hard to achieve a sense of financial and social stability.


This article explained how and why the capitalist society, and the way of living in it, has been leading more and more people to depression. The article showed how, even though there is scientific evidence that depression can be caused by genetics or brain chemistry, the system the person lives in can also have a negative impact.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, feel free to write them in the section below.