Depression and Success: A contemporary relationship

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Success is something that almost everyone would aspire to achieve: the feeling of “having made it” and being appreciated and recognized by a large number of people (professionally or artistically speaking) is a dream for anyone.

However, it’s common to hear about singers or artists who experience symptoms of depression, disappearing for months or years from the spotlight and facing much more than just “blue times”.

It would be natural to wonder how it is possible for world-famous personalities, who therefore enjoy great success, money and recognition, to fall into a loop of negative thoughts and end up developing depression?

In reality, the relationship between success and depression is very complex and multifaceted. 

On the one hand, success can lead to greater fulfillment and satisfaction in life, increasing self-esteem and promoting an overall positive self-image. On the other hand, it can also lead to an increase in stress, due to the high pressure to which one is regularly exposed, resulting in an increased risk of depression.

In order to understand the effective link between success and depression, it is good to give a definition of depression and what can be the symptoms and the main causes.

Depression is a term that is used to indicate the presence of sad, empty or irritable mood, accompanied by physical, physiological and cognitive changes that significantly affect the functioning of the individual. Depression can predict cognitive symptoms (such as reduced ability to concentrate and a strong tendency to blame yourself), affective symptoms (mood and negative thoughts), symptoms related to motivation, behavioral symptoms (such as motor slowdown, equilibrium, thoughts and increased or decreased sleep) and physical symptoms.

The main causes of depression are biological, psychological and social factors (such as the presence of stressful events), and genetic and physical factors.

Most depressive symptoms and some causes are highly related to success.

In fact, success is often associated with high levels of stress and anxiety, especially if it is perceived as a matter of “life or death”. For example, a high-level singer may feel overwhelmed by the pressure of staying on top of the charts, while a CEO may feel suffocated by the stress of reaching company goals.

This high and constant stress condition is linked to the development of greater insecurity and self-criticism. In fact, a person who has achieved great success may start to worry about not being up to their own or other’s expectations, or not being able to keep their level of success.

In addition, success can also lead to greater social isolation. For example, a person who achieves success may find themselves spending more and more time away from their interpersonal relationships, due to an excessive workload or a professional commitment that leaves no space for private life.

All these factors greatly increase the risk of depression; the constant stress and negative self-thought leads the person to feel unable to meet their own or other’s standards, with the result of an impoverishment of the sense of self-efficacy, which can easily lead to the development of depressive symptoms.

Furthermore, the lack of healthy and meaningful interpersonal relationships, which can be a resource for an individual, can lead to the feeling of loneliness and emptiness, pushing the person to withdraw into themselves, but their “self” is unable to cope with problems, due to the deep insecurity that arises from the fear of “not keeping up to make it.”

However, the relationship between success and depression is not always negative: success, in some cases, can also play a protective role. 

In fact, the achievement of goals can also increase self-esteem and confidence, promoting the development of positive and meaningful social relationships that can be a resource against depression, providing emotional and affective support. It can be an effective motor for our lives, but, in order to have truly good effects ambition, it must allow the creative aspects of the soul to express themselves, not the compensatory needs of an insecure personality. So, even if the time of success ends, it will have given us so much of ourselves that instead of falling into crisis we will want to start again for another adventure, maybe very different and all to discover.

Furthermore, success can also provide a sense of purpose and meaning in life, which is an important factor in the prevention of depression.

Overall, success and depression are complexly intertwined and the relationship between the two can be both positive and negative. It is important to find a balance between work and personal life, and to develop healthy and meaningful interpersonal relationships, in order to reduce the risk of depression and promote overall well-being.

Additionally, success can also provide a sense of purpose and meaning in life, which is a crucial factor in maintaining overall well-being and emotional health. When individuals feel like they have a reason to get out of bed every morning, they are more likely to have a positive outlook of life, even in facing challenges.

In conclusion, the relationship between success and depression is very complex and may depend by plenty of factors. While success can bring lots of benefits and increase an overall satisfaction with life, it can also bring high levels of stress and pressure, that can increase the risk of depression. 

It is important for individuals to find a healthy balance between work and personal life, to maintain positive relationships, and to seek support when needed. Seeking help and support can help mitigate the negative effects of stress and promote a healthy and fulfilling life, both personally and professionally.

Lisa Nespoli


Fish, R., Three reasons why success causes more stress and what you can do about it, Forbes, 2018

Riopel, L., The importance, benefits, and value of coal setting, Positive Psychology, 2019

VanderWeele, T. J., What brings meaning and purpose in life?, Psychology Today, 2020

World Health Organization, Social isolation and loneliness

Swift, J.,  The benefits of having a sense of purpose, Research & Innovation, 2021


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