Depression as a Problem of Labor: Japanese Debates About Work, Stress, and a New Therapeutic Ethos

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The global rise of depression is often linked to the spread of neoliberalism, which urges workers to constantly design and (re)make themselves in order to advance their careers through their ever-widening social networks. Depression can be read as both the pathological breakdown of this self-production and an adaptive response against the increasing demand for affective communication. The fundamentally social nature of depression has been heatedly debated in Japan, where, since the 1990s, it has surfaced as a “national disease” that disrupts the workplace. Many workers are said to have become depressed as a result of their traditional work ethic, notable for its loyalty and diligence, which is less valued in a neoliberal economy. Using this argument, a workers’ movement has successfully established depression as an illness of work stress, thereby winning economic compensation and long-term sick leave for afflicted workers. Yet, this radical reconceptualization of depression as socially produced has also created an impetus to collectively manage workers’ mental health, with the government’s much-disputed plan to impose “stress checks” on all workers in order to screen out the vulnerable. The emerging psychiatric science of work also questions the traditional clinical approach to depression that emphasizes “natural” recovery through rest; instead, it is cultivating modes of restoring health in ways that render workers more efficient and productive for business. This paper examines Japanese debates about the nature of workers’ psychopathology, their vulnerabilities, and their recovery – or even their potential for further transformation – against the backdrop of the new therapeutic ethos.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHistory, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Publication series

NameHistory, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences
ISSN (Print)2211-1948
ISSN (Electronic)2211-1956


  • Depression
  • Japan
  • Psychiatry
  • Stress
  • Work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Ecological Modelling
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • History and Philosophy of Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Depression as a Problem of Labor: Japanese Debates About Work, Stress, and a New Therapeutic Ethos'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this