There comes a time in most of our lives when we struggle. We lack the motivation to do just about anything. We don’t have the energy to figure it out. We feel out of control and helpless. And what’s worse, we don’t want to recognise it.
Depression affects so many people that it is often called the common cold of mental illness.
One young person wrote of her feelings of depression. She said,
“Always feeling like there was a black cloud casting a shadow over me even when things were happy. Never feeling like I was enough – I always could have been better. Feeling ashamed of myself for no real reason… just feeling like I didn’t fit in anywhere, that I didn’t belong in this life.”
The Black Dog Institute is a world leader in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.
They describe depression as
“… a common medical condition. It can cause a low mood that doesn’t go away and makes us feel sad or withdrawn. It interferes with the way we go about our everyday lives and can make it hard to cope.”
Some people see depression as a dark place. “Everything in the world looks dark.”
Author Christina Fox wrote about her experience of the ‘darkness of depression.’ She says,
“I have battled depression on and off since adolescence. It began the year my grandmother died. I switched schools, and close friendships were lost. There was a brief respite during college and graduate school. Then after the birth of each of my two children, the despair sucked me into the darkness I had never known before. It terrified me. The thoughts and feelings that consumed me were paralysing. I had fallen into a deep pit and couldn’t find a way out.”
There are many contributing factors that can lead to depression. These include
- genetics (family history)
- biochemical factors (brain chemistry)
- personality style
- long-term pressures such as abusive relationships, bullying and work stress
- stressful or traumatic events.
Sometimes knowing the why of depression is elusive. You can’t always identify the cause or alter difficult circumstances. Everyone’s different and it’s often a combination of factors that can contribute to developing depression.
What follows, are three important facts to help you move beyond depression.
1. Immerse yourself in the truth
Knowing about the causes and risk factors for depression can help you understand why depression occurs and how to deal with it.
Depression is not a sign of personal weakness and failure. Admitting to suffering from depression is not ‘unmanly.’ It takes courage to speak openly about your mental health challenges.
No one is immune from becoming depressed. Bestselling author J. K. Rowling says,
“Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have experienced… It is the absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again.”
2. Meditate on the light
Clinical psychologist, Dr Kelly Flanagan says,
“If you want to survive the darkness of depression you stubbornly look for the light.”
Imprisoned in the dark, he purposefully sought the light. He says,
“During long nights, when I couldn’t sleep, I sat awake at my bedroom window, and I meditated upon a street light in the distance. Light pushing back dark. I drove dark country roads and paid attention to houselights nestled in black fields. Light pushing back dark. I watched an owl in the middle of the day land in a tree across the street, and then fly down the block. An animal of the night, flying through the light.”
Writer, Stephen Altrogge, has known bouts of depression. He says,
“Depression is like wearing tinted glasses. Everywhere you look, things look dark.”
Altrogge has found that if you’re depressed, embrace the sunshine. He says,
“Just twenty minutes in the sun can do wonders for the darkened brain and the sunken soul.”
3. Maintain a realistic hope
Psychologist and author, Rollo May says,
“Depression is the inability to construct a future.”
If we aspire to a fulfilled life we need hope. Hope enables us to find a sense of meaning and purpose. As one writer put it, ‘Hope is like a personal cheerleader in the game of life.’
But we don’t want to be high-jacked by false hope. We need a hope that will allow us to look forward to a positive future, a realistic hope.
Dr Richard Winter argues that realistic hope is ‘the door out of the blackness of depression and despair.’
A realistic hope relies on realistic goals.
- Avoid setting goals too high. This only leads to discouragement.
- Avoid setting too many goals. This may lead to confusion and conflict.
- Focus on simple, achievable goals.
– walk for twenty minutes a day
– enrol in a cooking class
– find a charity you can support
– start a vegetable garden
There are many problems associated with leaving depressive illness untreated, especially after the first month of symptoms, when the chance of early spontaneous recovery has been missed. One of the complications of untreated depression is the risk of suicide.
International research in various countries has shown that almost 80% of people who have died by suicide have had an uncontrolled depressive illness at the time of their death.