Is The Pacific Northwest Depressing? (or is it just me…)

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“Just move to the Pacific Northwest”, they said.

“The grass is greener there”, they said.

Well, they were right. It is greener here than it was in Utah. So why are so many people who live in the Seattle (and the PNW in general) depressed?

Is the PNW just a depressing place to live? Well, yes, actually.

Despite so many people that dream of living in the PNW and love vacationing here there are quite a few things that bring down the moods of locals.

Well first, let’s define the problem.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2019, the prevalence of past-year major depressive episode (MDE) among adults aged 18 or older in Oregon was 10.2%, and in Washington was 8.8%, both of which are significantly higher than the national average of 8.1%.

Research studies also indicate that the Pacific Northwest may have higher rates of depression than other regions of the United States. A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that residents of the Pacific Northwest had higher rates of depression than residents of the Southeast and Midwest.

The main contributing factors to depression in the PNW were found to be: SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), financial difficulties, political unrest, and a lack of meaningful social interaction.

So, what? If those are problems in the PNW, aren’t they problems everywhere? After all, wouldn’t the depressed people of the PNW just be depressed elsewhere if they moved?

Well, it turns out that they might not be. Despite having many benefits, the Pacific Northwest is uniquely depressing for many people. So let’s dive into each one of those causes and see what’s at their root.

Let’s start off with the poster child example for everything that is depressing in the PNW…Seattle.

What Makes Living In Seattle So Depressing?

1. The Dreary Weather

A typical 3:00 during the Seattle winter…

When asked about why Seattle is a depressing place to live, the ever-present rain is always the first thing that people mention.

But here’s the real kicker. The amount of rain that Seattle and the rest of the Pacific Northwest get is depressing even if you love rain (which I do).

People don’t typically develop Seasonal Affective Disorder because they hate the rain. It happens because a lack of sunlight does funny things to your body physically.

Your body is unable to produce adequate Vitamin D and your circadian rhythm starts to get funky without any reference point. Both heavily affect your mood and can lead to a depressed mood, fatigue, and irritability.

Going to work in the dark and then coming home 8 hours later in the dark really gets to most people. Even though Seattle isn’t actually a very rainy city (I’m just using Seattle as an example) it is overcast and gray for months on end during the winter.

Unfortunately, there’s no real way to know how much it will affect your until you experience it.

2. The Social & Political Climate

One of the main sources of stress in the Pacific Northwest is the ongoing political polarization and division that is present in the region and the country as a whole.

Many people have held Washington and Oregon up as beacons of liberal thought and acceptance but it doesn’t feel that way to many people that live in the area.

People on both sides of the political fence have become ever more fortified in their positions which has led to the widely broadcasted protests.

In addition to the charged political climate, the very nature of people who live in the PNW does not seem to be conducive to building happy relationships.

If you’ve heard the term “Seattle Freeze” to describe the effect of the people in Washington, you might think it’s an overgeneralization.

It’s not.

Most people in the Pacific Northwest tend to be passive-aggressive and unfriendly to strangers and Seattle is no exception. If you’re new to the area and want to try and connect with your neighbors…good luck.

This is even worse if you are part of a marginalized group as you may feel that your voice and experiences are not being heard or acknowledged. Especially if you feel that you do not fit in with the dominant culture or values of the region

It’s worth noting that the feeling of being disconnected from others is a commonly cited reason for depression and the Pacific Northwest just seems to be adept at helping people feel isolated.

3. The Economic Disparity

The Pacific Northwest, specifically the cities of Portland and Seattle, are known for their vibrant culture and high quality of life…for those who can afford it.

And it’s not just Oregon and Washington that have a problem. All of the PNW struggles with homelessness as a result of the exorbitant cost of living.

Check out this picture taken just a month ago in Vancouver (just over the border):

homelessness in B.C.

Before I moved to the PNW I really enjoyed my vacation here as I saw all of the prices in a different light. For residents, however, the ever-climbing cost of living has meant that most of the “fun” is reserved for people who live elsewhere and are able to save some of their paychecks.

Despite their lavish spending on arts and social programs, beneath the surface, both Portland and Seattle have a depressingly large number of people who live in poverty. And that number is increasing.

Add in the number of tech companies that pay their employees handsomely and you have a level of economic disparity that borders on unrest.

In the larger cities, the economic disparity is particularly pronounced, with a significant gap between the rich and the poor. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate in Portland is 15.8%, and in Seattle, it is 12.3%. This means that a significant portion of the population in these cities is living below the poverty line, struggling to make ends meet.

Housing prices in Portland and Seattle have been on the rise for years, making it increasingly difficult for low-income residents to afford a place to live. In fact, many people have left the city simply because they can’t make it work to live in the city, even with a high minimum wage.

Additionally, the cost of healthcare, education, and other necessities is also high, putting even more strain on those who are struggling to make ends meet.

This economic disparity can have a significant impact on the mental well-being of those who are affected by it. Studies have shown that poverty and financial insecurity can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair, and can also contribute to the development of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Furthermore, the economic disparity can also lead to feelings of isolation and disconnection, as those who are struggling to make ends meet may feel that they do not belong in the same community as the more affluent residents.

Looking pretty bleak, huh?

Well if you think that looks bleak, you probably haven’t seen the thousands of tents that those experiencing homelessness have pitched on the sidewalks of Seattle and Portland.

No matter your position in life it’s a depressing walk when you pass by such neglect and want on a daily basis.

But hold on, why are people moving to there if living in the Pacific Northwest is so depressing?

Why Do People Live In The Pacific Northwest At All?

Because we know to take Vitamin D!

Just kidding, but seriously, you have to take a Vitamin D supplement if you live here.

Apart from that, there are a few things that you can do to make living in the PNW a bit less depressing.

  • Don’t let the weather dictate your schedule. Get yourself a rain jacket and learn to wear layers. If you look at the weather before going out and it says “rain” then just dress for the weather. Don’t cancel your plans whether it’s a coffee date, a business meeting, or a hike. It makes the weather a bit more bearable if it’s not responsible for ruining your days.
Enjoying a rare storm break on the beach (it still rained…)
  • Find a non-political group you connect with. Political statements are everywhere in the PNW and over-involvement on either side never seems to make people happier and more fulfilled. Connecting with like-minded people, however, does. Get active in something you enjoy whether that’s going to tiki bars, church stuff, or just a photography group.
  • Leave the city. Seattle and Portland are fine for a visit but, believe me, everything that makes the PNW special just gets better when you get into the suburbs or smaller towns. The people are nicer, politics are less intense, and there are more opportunities to get out and do things (especially if you can escape the rain shadow).

I also have to say, not every place is right for every person. I have family that lives in Phoenix and loves it. I have family that could never leave Utah. I have family that lives in Las Vegas and claims to hate it but are still there after 40 years.

There’s no honor in staying somewhere you don’t like. If Seattle or the PNW isn’t for you, go find somewhere that is!

Conclusion

We didn’t even get into the everyday annoyances like having to deal with Mike from accounting wanting to tell you about his new Patagonia puffer he bought because he might try to climb Rainier this summer.

Or Marsha gushing about the 39th new hipster coffee joint that is a mile away from the office but will take 40 minutes to get to because of the traffic.

No, these are just the major gripes people have.

However, it’s not all glum news.

Even with all of the downers that I listed above, I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else. The PNW has enough positives that even the major mood-busters that exist make it a great place for most people.

You’ll just have to decide if it’s for you and the only way to do that is to experience it. Some come on down! (or up, as the cast, may be)