It is common for social investigators to justify their work in terms of the extent and importance of the problem they have tackled. Although their assertions are for the most part politely accepted, in time, as claims accumulate scepticism is inevitable. We are therefore diffident about beginning by asserting the particular significance - in scope and severity - of the condition we have chosen to study, clinicaldepression. But since we do believe that it is common - at least in urban centres - and that it is peculiarly unpleasant we feel obliged to confront the understandable scepticism that now tends to be evoked by yet another indictment of our way of life. There is good reason to believe that depression is not just another problem but a central link between many kinds of problem - those that may lead to depression and that may follow from it. It is not only, for instance, closely linked to poor housing; it is also highly correlated with a whole range of serious physical disorders. Our claim for the significance of the condition is, therefore, based on its pivotal position in the explanation of what is wrong with our society. For, as we will argue later, while we see sadness, unhappiness, and grief as inevitable in all societies we do not believe that this is true of clinical depression.