- Read the other articles in the series here: Why is Sweden…? The Local answers Google’s questions
The World Happiness Report always ranks Sweden as one of the top ten happiest countries in the world.
But a lot of data suggests that Sweden might not be as happy as we think.
In 2018, nearly 15 percent of people in Sweden said they were struggling or suffering in data analysed by The Happiness Research Institute. Those numbers are higher among young women and ethnic minorities.
Sweden had the fifth highest rate of antidepressant use in OECD countries (behind Iceland, Portugal, Canada and Australia) in 2019. Over 10 percent of the population used some form of antidepressant last year.
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Sweden’s youth are at the highest risk of depression in Europe, according to a study by Eurofound.
So as well as being one of the happiest countries in the world, Sweden produces a lot of less happy statistics.
But is Sweden so depressing, and why? We asked Michael Birkjær from The Happiness Research Institute.
“I don’t think it is!” he said.
“Sweden is one of the best places you can live! A significant number of people are not thriving, but it’s still one of the countries in the world where most people are happy.”
Happiness is relative though.
Is it just the weather?
Complaining about the weather isn’t just a Swedish national pastime. It also contributes to the high rates of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Researchers at Uppsala University have estimated that around eight percent of the population experiences winter SAD.
But Birkjær is keen to point out that weather is not the most important indicator of mental health.
“If you look at the ranking of the happiest countries in the world, it’s not hot countries,” he said. “There are other contributors to consider.”
What about life circumstances?
After general health and mental health, income inequality was listed as one of the main reasons for people suffering in the Nordic region.
“Chronic unemployment is associated with a large degree of unhappiness,” Birkjær said.
Despite Sweden ranking as one of the most equal countries in the world, income inequality is still prevalent.
“In the Nordic countries we have low unemployment rates. We have a society where a lot of people are doing really well. Not making it in such a social setting can be hard,” he said.
Seemingly, one way to prevent depression is to get a lot of money. Because according to the 2018 report, by the Happiness Research Institute, “people in the wealthiest segment seldom report that they are struggling or suffering”.
Add to this the difficulty that many foreigners face when they move here; Swedes are famously reserved and loathe small talk.
In a recent survey by Statistics Sweden on the Swedish population, 14 percent of respondents said they didn’t have a close friend.
“There are no happy lonely people,” says Birkjær.
Loneliness levels are rising year by year, especially among younger people.
“There are a lot of different theories to why that’s the case, but it’s not so empirical yet,” according to Birkjær.
“Historically we have just not invested so much into these problems of mental health disorders and loneliness, and that’s why we are paying the price now.
“We don’t have any good idea of how we can fix loneliness. It’s a massive problem,” he said.
Perhaps it helps to know that you are not alone if you’re feeling lonely.
You can reach out to fellow Local readers through our social media.
Finding community in Sweden might be harder than in many other countries, but it’s not impossible.
Readers in Sweden seeking support about mental health can contact Mind or call Sweden’s national health hotline 1177 for help in English.