Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Even the Winners are Losers

If I were to ask you who the "winners" in our society are, who would you pick? We have a fairly good idea of what kind of people are losers in this system, but who are the winners? Who are the people this system works for? Doctors? The people who found computer tech startups? Graduates of elite universities like Cambridge? Certainly society sees this type of "achievement" as the pinnacle of success. But what is the reality? The reality is that in our present society, even the winners are miserable! Can this system be said to work for anyone anymore?

The fact is that I am by no means unique. Suffering from an eating disorder and depression made me hardly more special among the Oxbridge student population than the A-levels that got me there. Last year a survey by student newspaper The Tab revealed that 21% of Cambridge students have been diagnosed with depression, while a further 25% think they may be depressed. At my all-girls’ college, Murray Edwards, 28% of students have experienced eating disorders. The numbers are reflected more widely – the National Union of Students surveyed 1,200 students and found that 20% believe they have a mental health problem, while 1 in 10 experience suicidal thoughts. Welfare teams at Cambridge alone anticipate 50 to 60 suicide attempts per year.
How Cambridge University almost killed me (The Guardian)
Depression is hardly exclusive to tech. The disorder is the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, and costs employers billions of dollars a year in lost revenue. Multiple people I talked to for this story pointed out that entertainers are also known for melancholy. For writers and artists, neuroses are practically required.
Yet certain elements of startup life and culture may make people particularly susceptible to depression. Stress, uncertainty, youth and isolation—the virtual cornerstones of today’s startup—have all been shown to increase likelihood of developing the disorder. Irregular work hours and constant high stress levels can lead to both social isolation and sleep disturbances, which can aggravate depression and make people even more volatile. It’s almost a perfect storm, says Maurice Ohayon, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine. “Any psychiatrist can tell you that this population is particularly exposed,” he told me.
Tech Has a Depression Problem (The Atlantic)
Graduating from medical school and starting residency training should be one of the most exciting times in a physician’s career. Instead, for two newly-minted New York City doctors, who ended their lives within a week of each other this summer, this period marked a morbid end. They represent a tragic and rarely discussed phenomenon in the medical profession: Doctors commit suicide at a rate more than twice the national average. Every year approximately 400 physicians take their own lives. That is roughly one per day, or the equivalent of two entire graduating medical classes each year.
Suicide and the Young Physician (The Atlantic)

Work hard, spend all your time studying, get good grades, get into an elite university, become a doctor, found a million dollar startup company in Silicon Valley. That's what everyone is told to do, right? To be like them. What for? Are you happy? If even the biggest successes in our society are increasingly miserable, who exactly is this system working for, anyways? Even the winners are losers.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_B._Calhoun

    1. Too bad he wasn't an economist rather than a ethologist, then people might have paid attention. That is the only "science" that matters anymore.


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