Despite complaints, you guys are on the right track with survival elements. It fits the theme incredibly well: the story of a regular man just trying to survive amidst a barren wasteland of concrete grins. When I think of what WHF should be i think of 1984 when Julia says "if you follow all the little rules, you can break the big ones" so she follows protocol in order to escape to ruins and share in romance, wearing lipstick, and reading. To many of my friends who have been through depression (myself included), there is always a strong feeling that you are just putting on an act, but are terrified that people will notice your bluff. Jim Sterling's whole "loosen the leash" approach isn't enough, The survival elements shouldn't exist for their own sake; they need to be refocused along the lines of hiding in plain sight and conformity.
The point of survival should not just be filling your needs, but seeming normal while doing it. Maybe in wastrel downer territory you can shove a rotten potato up your gob and vomit with no one noticing, but in wellington wells that unnerves people. The game should be a "stereotypical British" simulator in that regard as you desperately cling to life and sanity while pretending everything is perfectly fine.
So to this effect i would suggest the following:
HUNGER: the penalty for actually starving to death should be a ways away, a couple days at least. However unless you are used to starving yourself the penalty for waiting on food should be your mannerisms. Once you finally eat that potato on the verge of hunger it should be disgustingly scuffing it down your face, making loud chewing noises - most unseemly. If rotten, same but with gagging at the same time. All of these should draw attention to yourself, so to satisfy your hunger you have 2 options.
1. sit down on a park bench between the hours of 7-10, 12-2, or 5-7, and open up a nice little neckerchief on your lap and slowly and daintily eat your food (including rotten food). this means that you should save your good eatable food for when you are actually in public, and save the rotten food for when you are alone.
2. get out of sight somewhere before you scarf down your food you philistine.
THIRST: same with hunger, you shouldn't be seen drinking water out of a canteen in public. You have to drink from a glass or through tea. This could mean you have to actually either drink joy spiked water, or use some of your precious canteen/filtered water to make tea. To drink tea you can either sit down or walk, but you walk saucer cup in hand, modest pace, both hands full (meaning you cant do anything else). Dropping the tea cup would startle anyone near by, so would dumping it; so if you want to drink tea you have to commit for the the time it takes to drink it. This could then function as both assassin's creed "blend mode" as well as a way to slowly restore thirst. This all goes towards the idea that filling your needs in public should take time and effort to do. You are going out of your way to hide.
Another side effect of clean water is that it could increase the speed that joy wears off.
SLEEP: Sure, you would get tired after a while, but adrenaline would help with your stamina. The big thing sleep should do is make you cranky. Which could blow your cover when someone says "how do you do."
JOY: I dont think joy is dangerous/useful enough. As of right now, other than a few cosmetic differences it's essentially a keycard/ f3's "fixer." Joy should do more than just color the streets and put a spring in your step, it should be clear it alters our pc's perception and behavior. While i never had to take anti-depressants, i have many friends who have, and one thing that is always consistent is the frustration and anger they feel about "being imprisoned behind a smile." In other words the miserable person is still in there, but he or she is trapped by the drugs restricting of their ability to express it. So in the case of WHF, we are that little voice in the protagonist's head, and when he takes Joy we should have to actively fight his new psyche.
1. Changes to the menu: joy should change how Arthur sees himself and his goals. The objectives should change (perhaps dangerously so, requiring the player to remember what he is doing before taking joy). Sinister or unseemly text in the notes and letters you pick up should be censored.
2. Changes to actions: Obtainable weapons should not be noticeable, recipes should be disabled (everything is fine, why do you need to sharpen a rock?). All of your status bars should be invisible (which means that the sobering up could be incredibly painful, unless you keep a regular schedule). Picking locks and disabling traps should take longer. If a player needs to "go under" with joy he should do so as a conscious choice that he needs to prepare for. The player would then be the little voice that is helping Arthur fight the drug.
2. Changes to hunger: The game already showed it in the prologue, its pretty clear that wellington wells is starving, but no one is able to notice. That should work for your advantage. That horrid maggot ridden piece of goop? Its a lovely green crisp Granny Smith apple now! Delicious! No side effects at all. You might notice something should you have the misfortune to sober up, but we would never want to do that now would we?
3. Changes to meters: Unless joy is the most powerful placebo in the world. it shouldn't satisfy meters, it should just hide them while suspending their effects
This could be one of the benefits to going under joy is that while sober, you might gag and heave at eating a rotten apple (to the disquiet of those around you), but on joy you daintily eat it. Making it easier to consume goods in public, at the expense of a killer stomach ache once you sober up.
Suggestions for Additional Survival Meters:
"RELIEF": if you want a meter that depletes quickly, rather than hunger or thirst, how about defecating. You could make it tick down over time, with it being hastened by eating food or drinking water (especially rotten food). Like hunger, territory, dropping your drawers to pop a squat on the street may not be a problem among downers, but its unseemly in wellington wells. You will have to use a bathroom (which means you will have to ask), or be certain you are out of sight (id imagine it would take a while to do, so its very risky to just turn on the tap while you are in an ally).
CLEANLINESSThe player should have a meter of how clean he is, where the dirtier you are, the more you attract the attention of wellies. There are many ways to get clean (or just mask it temporarily with deodorant). You can bathe in a river (not as effective), or take a shower (at the risk of being drugged by joy).
Dirty clothes: this is where your item degradation should come in, not weapons. If a player fails to relieve himself, exerts himself (run around in a suit all day and it will not look very sophisticated), or sleeps in his clean clothes, they will not be clean for very long. Which means that you will either need more clean clothes (or "borrow" a washing machine).
DUPLICITY how good of an actor is Mister Hastings? you can get this skill up by doing stealth actions like sitting and reading, as well as travelling through wellington wells off joy without getting caught (perhaps there are books for it). Joy overrides the duplicity skill but if you use joy too often as a crutch your duplicity will suffer. Get it high enough and you can hold a piece of rancid rat meat in your hand, and pretend its a piping hot beef wellington.
With the refocus towards learning to take care of your self while living a double life, the game can add tension as you climb through the ranks to blend in among pickier and more discerning social circles of wellington wells.