Are You Suffering From Cultural Depression?

Cultural Depression - HSP Heath Blog

Shopping! © by antwerpenR

I see a lot of depression around me.

Perhaps you do, too.

But it is a strange kind of depression the kind of depression that comes when everything around us seems wrong.

Depression And Culture

What I am seeing is a fairly complex depression that comes from a number of sources – like an octopus messing with our inner well-being. I am calling it cultural depression.

Culture and psychological well being are closely related. If a culture does not support the well-being of its members, then numerous emotional and psychological conditions can be expected. According to Time Magazine, one in five Americans are taking medication for mental health issues. That number does not take into account the numbers of people medicating themselves in other ways.

Depression And How We Value Ourselves

We humans have an important need: the need to like and be happy with ourselves.

Our ability to do that is aided or harmed by our culture through rewards and punishments, approval and disapproval, being included or excluded. How that is handled is very important and can make or break a society.

We humans also have a need to be a part of and contribute to the culture that sustains us, and we also want to be proud of it. We need to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror at night and know that we did our best, made our contribution and had something to do with the  good in our world.

What happens when that contribution is marginalized? limited? controlled? and diminished?

What happens when we are treated as commodities? treated as burdens? made demands of without having our own needs met?

What happens when our ability to solve our on problems is taken away? our skills are undeveloped? our talents unwanted?

What happens when we are nothing more than cogs in a wheel rather that the important creative force in our lives? How many can say that their real self is truly valued?

Cultural Depression And How We Define Ourselves

Because we grow up in a particular cultural context, we learn to define ourselves in terms of the culture we live in. Question the culture and you discover quickly how much culture and identity are intertwined. Want to abandon a culture? You will soon discover how much you depend on it.

Of course we can practice detachment and that is healthy. However, it is equally valid to assert that a culture needs to serve its members and needs to have a healthy purpose and healthy practices. Which means that it needs to support the health and self-actualization of its citizens.

How Cultural Depression Feels

I am mostly interested in how it affects us on the inside, which impacts our ability to function and live well. Our highly mechanized economic system has an affect on how we feel. Many people have some of all of these feelings:

  • we are incidental. Most of our living comes from  a “system”.  What is not systematized? We have systematized food production, all sorts of goods production and distribution, and the education and economic system.  It is operated by humans working machines. We are largely incidental and feel it.
  • we are displays. We are able to display the results of all of this systematization: through the clothes we wear, cars we drive and houses we live in. We are all mannequins in this store called Earth.
  • we are dependent. We cannot usually leave this system because when we go to school, we learn the skills necessary to survive in it, not without it. So we have become dependent on it which can make us feel insecure. Are we living our lives or just passing through on a conveyor belt from birth to death?

A highly mechanized and systematized winner-take-all economic system like our current version of capitalism leave a lot of people feeling depressed and unhappy. And that is a reasonable response to a difficult situation. Often it feels uncomfortable because

  • it seems relentless –  the activity and production. It’s a system that seems afraid to stop.
  • of the hustling: hustle to work, to feel good, to smile no matter what. The forced and expected validation of a system that we have to support to survive.
  • then comes the fear:
    • the fear of not being included or dropping out.
    • the fear of the judgment of others should you not measure up
    • the fear as one famous critic said, “of being irrelevant.” Being irrelevant is often seen as a failure and the end of your livelihood.
  • then the exhaustion, because no matter how hard you try, it is very difficult to get to a place where you can rest. In essence the odds are stacked against you. It’s not just a rat race, it is a rat trap.

Our culture has supported our growth in some important ways, however, the growth that is supported is very limited and confined to the  direct needs of that economic system. So if you decide to define yourself beyond the economic system, you may find yourself out on a limb.

What started innocently as a way to improve the material well-being of the human race has now become an albatross around our necks – a shallow and relentlessly materialistic model that has turned human beings into commodities like everything else.

Unfortunately this system needs for us to be dependent on it so that it can survive – a dependency that causes us to feel vulnerable when something goes wrong. Then we have to take notice of how many of our basic needs are met by products transported to us from elsewhere. We are living with a societal structure that has so many points of failure that we are all excessively vulnerable. That does not feel good.

What Can We Do About Cultural Depression?

Our current system is mature and entrenched. It is unlikely to respond to individual needs and concerns in a meaningful way. That is asking more than it can do. But we do not have to leave it at that. We can start to get rid of cultural depression by taking our lives back by:

  • taking our bodies back from processed and fast food, soft drinks and snack foods.
  • take our minds back from packaged entertainment that offers a negative view of people and the world.
  • take our livelihoods back by  investing in skills that help us and others to become healthy.
  • investing in local sources of food and other necessities so that we are less vulnerable to supply disruptions in other places.
  • investing in our local community so that it becomes the life supporting and sustaining place it can be.

We do not have to be victims of cultural depression.  Everyone has natural creativity which can be used to make life more enjoyable. sustainable and satisfying.

It means living on a human scale and just requires a leap of faith.



  1. says

    I value your insights, Maria, and the advice you give.

    I think sensitive and gifted people are so vulnerable to this type of depression, because they know EXACTLY what is missing and how the gap can be filled to create more joy and peace and understanding. Knowing and not being able to do something about it causes the suffering.

    Also, it is hard for any gifted / sensitive person to have so much to give and not be allowed to do that or not having their efforts reciprocated.

    • Maria says

      Hi Nicolette,

      Thank you for your beautiful insights and wise words about the experience of highly sensitive people. It is very hard to be aware, want to give and not able to reach the people around you. We can feel powerless and that is hard to live with. I could not have put it better.

      All the best,

  2. says

    As a HSP and an artist living on a small Caribbean island, I have been suffering from this kind of depression for a number of years and was unable to recognize it until I read this article. I had started out 15 years ago feeling I was going to intergrade with my new home and had a chance of being fully accepted one day as a ‘local’ by working hard, being useful and doing volunteer work. I did gain friends among locals and expats. Then the rise of nationalism among local people when the country became independent was uplifting and positive but since the economy dived, the anti foreigner feelings have grown strong and anyone who is not local and wants to belong and be part of the local culture is called a ‘wannabee’. Recent letters in the press by the leader of the patriotic movement say of migrants who want to belong, ‘quote” a pig who goes to stay in a horse stable will always be a pig” and ‘if these pigs don’t like it they can always go back to their pig sty’. This level of hatred makes me feel very sad. I have never done anyone wrong. Each day I withdraw from cultural life as it is clear I am seen as an intruder, not individually but at a collective level, no matter how hard I try I will never be accepted or allowed to have an opinion, at best I will be ignored. I know this depression will not be forever as I work on leaving one day as I see no future here.

    • Maria says

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for stopping by. I am sorry that you are having such a negative experience. Increasingly we will see some of these attitudes because of the worsening supply of natural resources to sustain modern life.
      There are several things you can do:

      • start a sustainable community group where you are. There is an international Transition Town movement that you can google to find out more about.
      • move to a place where you are considered a member of the community
      • move somewhere where people are more open to outsiders and will allow you to integrate
      • move somewhere open and working on their local sustainability
      • .

      This is an important time of transition away from the wasteful capitalistic model to more sustainable living arrangements. The trick is to make it work for you and the others around you.

      Let me know how you do.

      All the best,

      • says

        Thank you Maria, that was a great reply. Good advise. I and my partner are looking to move in the coming year to a more open society where there the question of ones cultural heritage and identity does not pervade every activity and I can reach a wider audience for my artwork. Thank you again, I will let you know how I do.

  3. says

    Thanks for addressing this important topic. Writer Peter Messerschmidt notes, “Existential Depression generally doesn’t affect many people, except in a very fleeting and vague manner. However, it is extremely prevalent among highly gifted sensitive adults.\” In his article Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals, James T. Webb, Ph.D. writes more about this experience. – From Sensitive and stressed: Existential Depression

    • Maria says

      Thanks, Douglas for your insights. I appreciate the references as well and thank you for sharing them.

      All the best,

    • Patrice Charles says

      Almost every day I go out I am culturally depressed. I am not in sync with our general modern culture in Trinidad and I do feel trapped sometimes. I wear headphones when I’m out in order to cope. I need to work on strengthening my sense of community with more like minded people. I have been practicing isolation for so long that its hard to break out of it.

      • Maria says

        Hi Patrice,

        Thanks for stopping by. I understand the feelings of being out of sync and the loneliness that can come from it. It can become had to develop a sense of community. You can look for like-minded communities online and see if they have any member in Trinidad. Online communities can help a lot. You could also start a group for HSPs locally. Artists, poets etc are often highly sensitive. Groups that support environmental and animal welfare re also great candidates.

        I hope this helps. Stay in touch.

        All the best,

  4. Claire says

    So much truth in this post, it does feel that Western culture forces us to kill ourselves to achieve and to have ‘things’. Perhaps we have become too entrenched in this dynamic in some parts of the world. However, the Slow Movement is a great example of the fight-back, and Mediteranean cultures, whilst being destroyed by the impact of Capitalism, still retain a sense of community and take pleasure in locally grown food. So much more to say on this subject, absolutely fascinating.

    • Maria says

      Hi Claire,

      Europe has the benefit of a longer history and more developed cultures. The United States is such a young country with people from so many cultures that it can be more fragile in some ways because there is not as the sense of connection and belonging that comes from older civilizations. I think the Slow Movement is great including the Slow Food and Slow Money efforts. I also like Transition Towns as a way for people to develop local sustainable communities.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      All the best,

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