Why Are Scandinavians So Depressed?

Scandinavian countries such as Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden generally rank very high on the UN’s Happiness Report, which might surprise people who believe Scandinavians are usually depressed.

However, while these people may be happy, they have also seen increased depression rates in recent years. 

Scandinavians are so depressed due to many factors. For example, a Scandinavian’s health, loneliness levels, age, gender, and employment status significantly affect their chances of developing depression.

Likewise, isolation and lack of sunlight exposure in the colder months may induce seasonal depression. 

While reports indicate that Scandinavian countries are some of the happiest in the world, depression rates are generally higher than average in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland.

These reports of depression have much to do with Scandinavia’s healthcare system, cultural beliefs, and environment.

Also, see Do Scandinavians Drink a Lot? to learn more.

Is Depression Common in Scandinavia?

Although the majority of Scandinavians are relatively content and satisfied with their lives according to the UN Happiness Report, these polls can only represent so much about a nation of people. [1]

For example, other polls indicate that 13% of all people in Scandinavia report that they are either struggling with or suffering from sadness and depression. [2]

Depression is relatively common in Scandinavia. Scandinavian women, ethnic minorities, young people, and unemployed people report higher rates of clinical and self-diagnosed depression than other Scandinavian people. 

According to a comparative data study from Front Public Health: 

  • Diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder in Denmark increased by 245% between 2000 and 2006. More recent studies report that over 18% of Danish people aged 16 to 24 have mental health issues. [3]
  • 15 to 25% of Icelandic people experience depression
  • 5% of Swedish people suffer from clinical depression
  • 3.5% of Norwegians suffer from clinical depression

While these percentages may seem relatively low at a glance, they have only increased and are pretty high compared to the rest of Europe. [4]

For example, in 2022, Finland ranked eighth in the most clinical depression diagnoses worldwide. [5] 

In addition, in 2018, reports indicated that suicide was responsible for ⅓ of all deaths among young adults in Finland. [6]

That same year, according to the World Happiness Report, Finland ranked as the happiest country globally.  

A 2018 study also revealed that approximately 28% of Norwegians report self-diagnosing themselves with depression at some point in their lives. [7]

Thus, it is likely that the UN’s World Happiness Report is not truly an accurate reflection of Scandinavian experiences and rates of mental health issues such as Major Depressive Disorder or self-diagnosed depression.

Reasons Scandinavians May Experience High Rates of Depression

Many factors affect the data we have on depression in Scandinavian countries. 

While some influences may indicate that Scandinavians are more depressed than other European nations, others merely suggest that Scandinavians are more willing to report their depression than people from other countries.  

Age Affects Depression Rates

All of the studies mentioned above and polls on depression in Scandinavian countries showed a strong positive correlation between general health, loneliness, age, gender, unemployment, and a diagnosis of depression. 

Young people between the ages of 16 and 24 have the highest risk of depression in Scandinavia. However, this statistic extends to the rest of the world. 

Researchers are yet to prove the reason for this prevalent depression epidemic among young people.

However, some guess that it is due to increased isolation as a result of technological advancement, hopelessness in economic downfalls, and concern for the future of the global climate. 

Those With Low Income Are More Likely To Experience Depression

Other studies have proven that income plays a significant role in depression rates in countries such as Sweden, where people with the lowest incomes are two times more likely to develop depression than people from the highest income groups. [8]

However, depression also harms both academic performance and employment rates. According to some studies in Norway, depression accounts for between ⅓ and ½ of all claims for work disability. [9]

Thus this cycle continues, as those with depression, predominantly the youngest populations of Scandinavia, may not perform as well in school, may have trouble finding work, and must claim depression as an occupational disability. 

Scandinavian Countries Have Access To Mental Health Care

Unlike other countries such as the US, Scandinavian countries generally provide healthcare to their people at an affordable price. 

This affordable healthcare may make Scandinavian people more willing to seek treatment for depression, thus giving the world a more accurate report of the number of people suffering from mental health issues in these nations. 

So, while the percentages of depression are high, especially in young adults, women, and older people, these statistics may be high due to the availability of care in Scandinavia and easier access to doctors who report mental health issues to the UN and WHO. 

Likewise, some studies measuring depression in Scandinavia only reflect data from the number of antidepressant medications prescribed in a given year.

These statistics also reflect the availability of mental health care and affordable prescription medications in Scandinavia. 

Loneliness and Sun Deprivation May Induce Depression

The coldness of Scandinavian countries in the winter months may also have a hand in depression rates. 

Scandinavian countries have long been solar-centric.

Scandinavian texts dating back to the 6th century AD record a general trend of sadness among Scandinavian people as the days get shorter and the winter becomes brisk.

We now know that this sadness is SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. [10]

SAD affects around 8 to 10% of people in Sweden, according to Jerker Hetta, Professor of Psychiatry at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. [11]

Are Nordic Countries Actually Happy? 

Nordic countries may actually be happy, even if data suggests that Nordic people have a higher depression rate than most European countries.

Scandinavian people have better access to healthcare, freedoms that other countries do not have, and political stability, which may increase happiness. 

While happiness is a difficult statistic to quantify, many Scandinavians are satisfied with the political, economic, and cultural climate they live in. 

While Nordic people may also have depression while living in these countries, that does not change the fact that their governments generally provide them with the resources and care they need to recover.  

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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