The Hierarchy of Needs
The Hierarchy of Needs
The Hierarchy of Needs
The Hierarchy of Needs
The Hierarchy of Needs

The Hierarchy of Needs

Depression establishes itself in vicious self-reinforcing cycles by gradually impinging on our ability to meet our own needs.


Meeting One’s Needs


Maslow (1943) described a hierarchical structure of needs that each human must (more or less) satisfy in order to realise their full potential as a person.


Diagram showing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


Physiological Needs: food, water, shelter, rest, sex

Safety Needs: security, freedom from fear, law, financial stability, stable place of residence

Love and Belonging Needs: friendship, intimacy, giving and receiving of affection, trust, acceptance

Esteem Needs: internal (self confidence and belief, mastery, achievement, independence), and external (reputation, respect) – Maslow pointed out that the latter is more important in younger people, while motivations tend to switch towards the former with age

Actualisation: reaching one’s own true potential


Each tier in the hierarchy provides the foundation structure for the tier above: when one tier of needs is not being met, it makes it increasingly difficult to satisfy those above. Although Maslow later clarified that there is some flexibility in the hierarchy (1987), it is generally necessary for individuals to roughly satisfy the needs of one tier before they can successfully address the needs of the tier above.


Deficiency- vs Growth-Needs


Deficiency vs Growth Needs


Deficiency Needs – needs that are stimulated through deprivation – usually comprising the bottom four tiers of the hierarchy. The need becomes more and more apparent the more it is not met. For example, hunger is a signifier of the need for food (Physiological). Once that need has been met, the hunger goes away. Similarly, loneliness is an indication of the need for social interaction (Love+Belonging); again, once this need has been met, the feelings of loneliness will generally subside.

Growth Needs – needs related to self-actualisation, by contrast, usually grow the more they are satisified. It is not uncommon, having begun to reach one’s own full potential, to feel an even greater motivation to grow further. Achieving an important qualification, and then almost immediately feeling inspired to move onto the next level qualification, is a good example of this.



Maslow’s Hierarchy and Self-Care


Considering Maslow’s hierarchy makes it clear why self-care is so important – if we do not meet our own basic needs, then everything else will eventually begin to fall apart, even if not immediately. For example, we cannot expect our academic studies to go well (Esteem Needs) if we are consistently not eating or sleeping properly (Physiological Needs). Conversely, if we ensure that we are eating and sleeping well (Physiological), have a secure place to live (Safety) and are surrounded by a solid support network of friends and family (Love + Belonging), then this makes it significantly easier to focus our energies into our studies and succeed in this aspect (Esteem). Taking care of the first three tiers in this way helps to build a solid foundation structure from which to tackle the tier(s) above.



Depression and its Impact on the Hierarchy of Needs


Depression establishes itself in vicious self-reinforcing cycles by gradually impinging on our ability to meet our own needs.

In the case of mild depression, for example, it may be difficult to reach our full potential or perform to our very best at work or university (hence depriving the top two tiers), but we just manage to cling onto the very basics of eating, sleeping, and socialising (satisfying the lower tiers).

However, with each tier that suffers at the hands of depression, the sense of failure or deprivation that can come with personal needs not being met can impact negatively on our mood and mental welbeing. This allows depression a greater foothold that enables it to progress down to the next tier.

As the severity of depression increases, its impact gradually infiltrates down through the tiers of the hierarchical structure and deprives us more and more of our most basic needs. As each tier begins to feel the effects of depression, and the needs in that tier are not met, it becomes increasingly difficult to meet the needs of the tier above as well.

Again, this feeds the feelings of negativity that allow depression to thrive and continue penetrating our hierarchy of needs until it can feel impossible to even feed ourselves or maintain a regular sleep pattern.


How Depression Impacts the hierarchy of needs and self care


Breaking the Cycle


Depression will only advance down the hierarchy if we allow our self-care routines to slip. If depression causes us a deprivation of needs in the higher tiers (such as under-performing in our studies, for example), and we allow this to get to us and impact severely on our mood, then it becomes very easy to lose interest in caring for our needs in the lower tiers as well – straight away depression has advanced down the hierarchy.

If, on the other hand, we remain strict with looking after ourselves and ensuring we meet our needs in the lower tiers, regardless of what happens higher up the hierarchy, then we can block depression  from making its way down. This can often demand huge amounts of energy and determination, but keeping on top of self-care at its most basic level is one of the most crucial steps to keeping depression at bay.