A common misconception about depression is that it is something people can just “snap out of.” Unfortunately, for those people who experience major depression disorder, it’s not that simple. While depression can be serious, it is far from hopeless. There are effective treatments and actions people can take to overcome this disorder. There are certain truths about depression that are important to understand; as we target this debilitating disorder that often spans generations.
1) Depression is a more than just a bad mood.
It’s important for friends and relatives of those struggling to understand that people who suffer from depression can’t just feel better. People experiencing a major depression really need professional treatment. Depression is a mind/body issue and should be treated with the same self-compassion and treatment-seeking with which we would treat any major illness. Different forms of therapy and/ or medications work for different people. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), psychotherapy can benefit depressed individuals by helping them uncover the life problems that contribute to their depression, identify the destructive thinking that makes them feel hopeless, explore the behaviors that exacerbate their depression and regain a sense of pleasure in their lives.
2) Depression is affecting younger people.
In what’s been referred to in the field of psychology as “the greening of depression,” younger people are reporting increased levels of stress and depression. According to the Federal Center for Mental Health Services, “depression affects as many as one in every 33 children and one in eight adolescents.” APA’s additionally reported that higher numbers of college students are seeking treatment for depression and anxiety, with the number of students on psychiatric medications increasing by 10 percent in 10 years.
As I highlighted in my recent blog “Depression in Mothers,” babies born to women who struggled with depression while pregnant have “higher levels of stress hormones … as well as other neurological and behavioral differences.” Thus, whether it’s based on biological factors or new social and academic demands, the vulnerability among younger people makes it all the more essential that we target depression earlier and more effectively. Studies have shown promising results to early intervention among school-age children who showcased symptoms of depression.
3) Mindfulness helps with recurrent depression.
There are a lot of great treatments out there that have proven effective for dealing with depression. Research by psychologist Mark Williams, co-author of The Mindful Way Through Depression, has shown that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can have a positive effect on preventing relapse in recovered depressed patients. His research indicates that if you teach people with recurrent depression mindfulness skills, such as meditation and breathing exercises, it reduces their chances of having another depressive episode.
Mindfulness practices don’t change our feelings or thoughts, but they do change our relationship to our feelings and thoughts. This enables a person who has a tendency toward depression to not get swept up in the thoughts and feelings that contribute to his or her depression. Another way mindfulness skills can benefit people struggling with depression is by helping them to be better able to regulate and tolerate emotion.
4) Anger often underlies depression.
Often, one strong emotion behind depression is anger. Anger can be a hard emotion to deal with, but it is actually a natural human reaction to frustration. Getting angry may seem like it would only make you feel worse, but when you don’t deal with anger directly, you tend to turn it on yourself. It is important to allow yourself the freedom to fully feel your feelings, but at the same time, to control yourself from acting them out in any way that is harmful. You can recognize and accept your anger in a healthy way that releases the emotion without allowing it to fester or be turned into an attack on yourself.
5) Depression is fueled by an inner critic.
We all have an inner critic, what my father, psychologist Dr. Robert Firestone, refers to as your “critical inner voice.” For people who are depressed, this critical inner voice can have a powerful and destructive influence on their state of mind. It may be feeding them a distorted commentary on their lives: You are too fat to leave the house. You are so stupid. No one will ever love you. You aren’t capable of being happy. You will never succeed at anything. The critical inner voice may then persuade you to act in destructive ways: Just be by yourself; no one wants to see you. Have another piece of cake; it will make you feel better. You shouldn’t even try for that job; you’ll never get it. Finally, once you’ve listened to its directives, the critical inner voice will attack you for your actions: You are such a loser, staying home alone on a Saturday. You messed up your diet again. What is wrong with you? You’ll never get a decent job. You’re so lazy.
To combat depression means taking on this internal enemy. This may involve looking into your past to help determine where these critical thoughts came from. How do these thoughts affect the actions you take in your life? How can you challenge these “voices” on an action level? On Oct. 8, I will be hosting a free online presentation on “Overcoming the Inner Enemy that Causes Depression,” which further explores how your critical inner voice leads to depression.
6) There are active steps you can take to alleviate depression.
One of the worst symptoms of depression is a feeling of hopelessness. This very feeling can inhibit someone suffering from taking the steps that would help them combat their depression. In my blog “Eight Ways to Actively Fight Depression,” I outline a series of actions people can take to fight depression. These include:
- Recognizing and challenging your critical inner voice
- Identifying and feeling your anger
- Engaging in aerobic activity
- Putting yourself in social or non-isolated situations
- Doing activities you once enjoyed, even when you don’t feel like it
- Watching a funny movie or show
- Refusing to punish yourself for feeling bad
- Seeing a therapist
For people struggling with depression, it’s important to have compassion for yourself and to take actions to overcome this state, including seeking help. Remember that no matter what your critical inner voice may be telling you, the situation is far from hopeless. There is good help available and many active ways to treat your condition. For more help or information visit the National Institute of Mental Health.
Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, author, and the Director of Research and Education for the Glendon Association. She studies suicide and violence as well as couples and family relations. She is the co-author (with Robert Firestone and Joyce Catlett) of Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion, and Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships.