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The Relevance of Karl Marx's Alienation and Depression Today

Updated on September 26, 2011

There are an astounding number of individuals suffering from depression today. The World Health Organization reports that up to 10% of the US population are diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder annually, and these patients are getting younger.


Depression is experienced when a person feels hopeless and helpless about life. Although its cause(s) are still unknown, psychologists believe that depression results from biological, cognitive and psychological interactions that cause a person to feel immense sadness and even suicidal tendencies.

From a sociological viewpoint, I think Karl Marx’s concept of alienation may illuminate us. In short, Marx theorized that alienation occurred when proletariat are unable to attain self-actualization when their already mundane work is surrendered to the capitalists.
In today’s modern capitalistic world, employment is crucial to one’s survival. The average worker enters the workforce to provide for themselves and their family. While some people love their vocations, the sad reality is that most others cannot pursue their dream job, and instead settle with more practical and decent alternatives. People today view education as the key to unlock the door of opportunity, but the recent global recession reminded us of the difficulties fresh graduates faced when job hunting. Besides, many parents project their dreams onto their children who end up disgruntled when they study and work in an area that they have minimal interest in, like the musical child who ended up studying Psychology to appease her parents. In essence, there is some element of truth in the fact that though we look in the mirrors to see our reflection, and attach meaning to our daily grind, we are but puppets who are controlled by powerful owners who have bound our limbs with invisible strings.

While we celebrate stories like the Slumdog Millionaire, most people are born into a particular social class with an already ‘pre-set’ network of acquaintances, affecting their life opportunities. Alienation is something that afflicts most who search for the purpose and meaning in their daily existence as employees. Though it is often concealed and denied, it is there gnawing at the unfulfilled and exhausted worker. Although this is but an attempt to explain depression sociologically, we must acknowledge that alienation inadvertently robs us of our happiness.


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