According to the World Health Organisation a pretty grim picture is developing with regards to global statistics on depression.
Generally and globally speaking, we’re not a happy bunch and we’re apparently not going to get happier anytime soon.
This is during an age, ironically, when so much is available to make you happy – assuming you can afford it – particularly in the western world. This emphasises the media’s consistent propaganda that as long as you can buy it, “it” can make you happy.
People are surprised when they buy their glimpse of happiness and find they don’t stay happy for long. It’s like a drug which requires a regular “fix” to maintain the high. The novelty of having a new car, a new job (which provides more money) or new clothes soon wears out and the next fix is needed. Having it all isn’t nearly enough.
That in itself makes depressing reading.
But what is depression?
Surely if we are to find a cure for depression with the same passion as we fight other life threatening illnesses, we must understand what it means.
The Royal College of Psychiatry defines depression as feelings of fed up, sad or miserable which don’t lift after a few days (and last weeks or months) and those feelings are so bad they start to interfere with your life.
There is a social stigma attached to depression which means that a) many people don’t understand it (or make assumptions about it) and so b) don’t seek the help they need. On my dedicated website on the topic of depression in pregnancy, a recent poll showed that nearly 65% of people don’t feel comfortable talking to their doctor about their mental health.
So, let’s bust some myths.
“Depression is for wimps and lazy people”
People who experience depression are often incredibly strong characters who take on too much and feel huge burdens of responsibility. If they are “weak” at all, its because they’ve been fighting with themselves (and possibly others) for so long. They feel tired and exhausted. Long periods of unmanaged stress can be a precursor to depression, so busy people are just as likely to experience depression if they don’t take positive action to nip unchecked stress responses in the bud.
Of course having no money (or spending too much of it) are reasons you may experience depressed feelings. If you believe that things or people have the power to make you happy, you are just as likely to feel depressed as anyone else.
Memories of life changing events can leave you wondering “why me” alongside knowing there were (or are) people in your life who have had an unhelpful influence.
But are these really the causes or just the trigger?
Perhaps causes of depression can include some of the following:
* Trying to conform with other people’s (changing) ideas of what’s normal
* Unhelpful and repetitive thoughts about not being good enough, getting things “right”, regrets and events which happened to you outside of your control
* Trying to control the uncontrollable (like wanting to change the past, people and events)
* Believing that what you think is fact, and confusing what you know with what you think you know (this includes making assumptions and drawing conclusions without checking them out)
* Taking responsibility for things and people, including their happiness
“Are people who are depressed looking for happiness?”
I would argue that, certainly initially, most are not. Many people who have experienced depression for a long period of time would settle for feeling mildly “better” with happiness as a holy grail, a quest, which would be the ultimate ideal. This is why many people who have not experienced longer periods of depression believe you can just “snap out of it”. Moving forward from depression involves taking small, baby steps and requires effort, which when you’re feeling low seems almost impossible. Thankfully baby steps are possible, especially when you have the right support.
“Aren’t people who get depressed just sad, negative and morbid people?”
Definitely not. When I had my first ever experience of depression, bizarrely it was the happiest time of my life. I had been told I was pregnant with the baby I could never have.
I believed I would fall pregnant, so I definitely wasn’t a “negative” person (I challenge the idea that you are only either negative or positive, we each have the capacity to be both) and I certainly wasn’t sad – I was elated. What did happen was that I began to find myself in a cycle of repetitive and unhelpful thoughts, sometimes without even realising what had changed my mood. I became concerned with “what if’s” like “What if I lose this baby, will it be my last chance?” especially when my consultant told me “it’s now or never”. I wasn’t morbid – I was completely (if not obsessively) focused on bringing life into the world. What I was doing unhelpfully was trying to control the uncontrollable, i.e. in this case Mother Nature.
“Some people are just the depressed type.”
People experience periods of depression. I challenge the idea that we should label anyone as “depressed” as this removes all hope and possibility that they will ever feel better. It also removes any responsibility from them to help themselves if they insist on resigning themselves into that category.
Note: Depression is what you experience, not who you are.
“But feeling sad is wrong.”
Of course it’s not. This comes back to the idea that it’s “wrong” to be negative and possibly the cause for the social stigma around depression. Whether you’ve experienced something as life changing as a bereavement or just didn’t get the pay rise you were hoping for, being able to process the feelings you have is a healthy thing to do. Pretending you’re not sad or disappointed when you are isn’t going to help anyone in the long run.
Too much emphasis is placed on positive thinking these days and if you tell a person experiencing depression to “cheer up” or be grateful, you’re just affirming their belief that there’s something else they’ve failed at.
* A person experiencing a period of depression is not a victim, they are human.
* They feel pain, often deeply, which seems beyond repair.
* They are not moping, they have lost their way.
* They are not feeling sorry for themselves, they are sorry that how they feel has such an impact on others.
* They don’t want to give up, they want the pain to go away. They don’t want to be sad, they want hope.
* They don’t need “fixing” because they are not a problem. They don’t need prejudice or judgement.
Tips for managing periods of depression:
* Support and encouragement. If you are the person currently going through a period of feeling depressed, make sure you are surrounded by people who can help you, this includes your doctor. If it’s someone else you’re worried about, help them to know that this will get better. In the words of King Solomon, “This too will pass”.
* Identify what would help but don’t let others take over. Take a look at how well you are eating and whether or not you are exercising, both proven ways to manage depression.
* Recognise that things and people don’t have the power to make you happy or unhappy. Attachment to things and people in this way will always leave you disappointed. That doesn’t mean you should be detached. A more helpful way, perhaps, is not to set any expectations.
* If you are being distracted by unhelpful thoughts, realising that you don’t have to think, can be hugely powerful. If you do seem convinced of this, set aside an hour a week, perhaps with the help of a friend or qualified counsellor, to do all your worrying during that time. If repetitive thoughts start to consume you, remind yourself that you have a dedicated time to give those thoughts your full attention.
* Don’t look for the meaning of the events which may consume you, but consider the purpose your life can bring you. You are precious to this life because you are alive. Even when you cannot see your purpose, it still exists.
* Manage your Stress and Sleep well. Make the hour before bedtime your Sanctuary for relaxation. You may find my eGuide “Soul Essentials: How to restore and maintain balance in your life” useful.
If you are someone who is experiencing a crisis and want someone to speak to urgently you may like to contact the Samaritans. If you are worried about someone else (and are based in the UK) call NHS direct on 0845 46 47.
“It’s never too late to be what you might have been. ” George Elliott.
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