Being depressed in the ‘world’s happiest country

Finland regularly tops global rankings as the happiest nation on the planet, but this brings a unique set of challenges for young people struggling with depression.

Basking in the sunshine outside a coffee shop decked out with minimalist Nordic furniture and colourful textiles, Tuukka Saarni is something of a poster boy for Finland’s position atop the UN’s happiness rankings, for the second year in a row.

“I’m pretty happy right now,” says the 19-year-old, who recently finished high school and is about to start a job in a grocery store after a few months searching for work.

In fact, he rates his happiness levels as 10 out of 10, saying neither he nor anyone in his friendship group has experienced depression.

“Our lives are going really well,” he says. “It’s a great mixture of things. We have good weather – sometimes at least – good education and good healthcare.”

A national culture that supports spending time alone as well as with friends is also something he values, alongside Finland’s ample nature and low unemployment levels. “There’s a lot of jobs…if one is ready to apply and search for a job, then I think everyone can get a job,” he argues.

It is these kind of markers – alongside high levels of trust and security and low rates of inequality – that explain Finland’s sometimes controversial top position in global happiness rankings.

The small, northerly nation, with a population of just 5.5 million people, has historically been stereotyped as having a melancholic mentality linked to its long, dark winters – it isn’t a place where you regularly see outpourings of joy or other positive emotions. Yet, like its Scandinavian neighbours, Finland ticks the bulk of the boxes that typically influence subjective well-being around the world.

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