Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States today (1). In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported antidepressant drug use had skyrocketed by 400 percent over the last two decades. Antidepressants are the most commonly taken type of medication by people 18-44 years old. In 2008, 23 percent of women who were 40-59 years old were taking antidepressant medications (2).
Women experience depression more often than men. Women experiencing depression may feel sad, worthless and guilty (3). While biology and hormones play a role in this difference in women’s higher depression rates, societal pressures also play a factor.
The Pressure to Be Successful
Many people feel pressured to be successful. Women particularly feel more stress and tension as they are expected to be successful in both home and career. This concept of “having it all” puts undue strain on females who strive to be good mothers while having successful careers. When people aren’t feeling successful or engaged in their jobs, depression can be the result.
Rather than feeling successful and engaged at work, a study reported that many of us feel disconnected from our jobs. In 2013, a Gallup report showed 50 percent of U.S. workers were not engaged in their jobs, and were simply doing what they must to earn a living. Also, 20 percent were said to be actively disengaged. Those people hated going to work and actively tried to undermine their workplace (4).
The Pressure of Social Isolation
Humans are social by nature and need interaction with other humans to remain mentally healthy. A study done by the American Sociological Review in 2006 looked at social relationships and how many friends each respondent reported. The study reported that in 1985, 10 percent of people in the U.S. stated they lacked confidants to interact with.
In 2004, 25 percent of people in the U.S. reported no one they could confide in within their lives. This loss of social interaction leads to feelings of isolation, helplessness and sadness, which are all hallmarks of depressive disorders (4).
Depression as a Reaction
When people are feeling helpless, hopeless and isolated, some react by eating and drinking in excess. Others develop addictions to illicit and prescription drugs. So many of us work for many hours at jobs we find dissatisfying, becoming angry and depressed. Many people deeply feel social isolation, lacking confidants to express their fears and frustrations to, adding to a situation that builds like a pressure cooker.
As these negative feelings build, people rely on medications to relieve symptoms of depression, but without friends and satisfying daily lives, nothing is solved for the long term and the cycle continues.
It’s important to recognize how society and the pressures we feel to function in certain ways contribute to depression and other mental disorders. By realizing how societal factors affect our everyday lives, we take the first step in changing either our own situations or how we feel about them, so we can function at higher levels with less depressive tendencies.