‘Depression can be a threshold for transformation.’ Robert Hunt explores the illness and shares his insight and expertise on how to turn your life around.
Depression is a mental illness that has a bad rap. It comes with a stigma and, for many, depression feels like a life sentence of pain. Most who experience depression don’t even realize they are depressed until it turns into having thoughts of suicide and death. And, even if someone recognizes that they are feeling depressed, he or she is often shy about admitting it or getting help because of the stigma that mental illness carries.
However, experiencing depression can serve as a gateway for change. It can be a turning point for a new life. First, from a clinical perspective, depression is treatable(!), meaning that this illness can turn around. Depression doesn’t have to weigh someone down for the rest of his or her life. With psychotherapy, the right medication, and other lifestyle changes, such as exercise, depression can lift and life can be joyful.
Perhaps it’s best to begin by reviewing the symptoms of depression to help identify what depression feels like. Depression is a persistent experience of feeling down, despondent, or low. In order to be diagnosed with depression, there are clear behavioral criteria that a person must exhibit. Some of these include:
· A depressed mood
· Loss of interest in activities
· Social withdrawal
· Suicidal thoughts
· Poor concentration
· Poor memory
· Slow thinking
· Loss of motivation
· Sleep disturbance – insomnia / hypersomnia
· Appetite disturbance – weight loss/gain
Someone doesn’t have to have all of these symptoms but having some of these consistently can indicate depression. Yet, even if you uncover that you’re depressed, if you didn’t already know it, depression doesn’t have to be a curse upon your life. It can be the very means for turning your life around.
This change might begin by diving into yourself. Often, depression is a way of being cut off from who you are, which is frequently a result of having had a destructive life. For instance, the difficult experiences of an abusive childhood, a life of addiction, growing up among strong criticism, living with intense guilt, and/or experiencing abandonment early in life can be situations that destroy the spark of life within. These situations and others can create thought patterns and beliefs like “I’m at fault”, “I’m not loveable”, “I’m not worth being loved”, or “My life isn’t worth anything”.
Of course, none of these statements are true for anyone! Although it might feel true temporarily because of the circumstances you endured, there is always a greater truth to be found. For this reason, uncovering who you are beneath the challenging circumstances, beyond the thought patterns, can be an essential part of healing depression. For instance, discovering what you’re passionate about, tapping into your strengths, and diving into your creativity can help turn depression into discovering joy. Essentially, finding out who you are and discovering your particular uniqueness can help brush away the debris of depression so that your inner light shines.
In fact, some clinicians feel that the presence of mental illnesses is indicative of our time. The prevalence of depression and anxiety are so common and the rates of occurrence are only increasing. Some experts say that it is Western culture itself, which is focused more on productivity than on personal relationships.
Depression might be the result of a collective disconnect that is pervasive throughout society. Today, men and women tend to have less sunshine and more computer light, less time with family and more time with strangers and co-workers, less real foods and more processed foods because they are too busy to make a meal. There seems to be a relationship between the growing urbanization of the world and the increase in mental illnesses. Perhaps it is the inaccessible beaches and parks that are common to cities. Perhaps it is the distance from nature, from others, and from oneself. Many individuals today are focused on their individual lives, lost in their smart phones, and shifting their attention from one piece of technology to another. There’s no real connection that is satisfying and psychologically nourishing.
It’s important to point this out too in order to say that if you are experiencing depression, you’re not alone. And, depression doesn’t only arise from your particular life; it’s a part of the collective experience we as human beings share. Knowing this alone can be empowering and perhaps provide the encouragement to reach into yourself and find the power that is waiting to be utilized.
If you’re feeling inspired to turn your life around, you should know that there are some traditional ways that depression is treated, which you may want to explore in addition to diving into yourself. For instance, the use of medication combined with psychotherapy has been incredibly successful for many individuals. Certain anti-depressants, known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRI’s, can increase levels of serotonin and ease depressive symptoms. Other forms of anti-depressants can also be useful.
However, sometimes medication alone act as a band-aid. Anti-depressants can help lift the symptoms of depression but not address the underlying issues that need healing. For this reason, psychotherapy is useful. For instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be a tool to identify negative and distorted thinking patterns that might contribute to a depressed mood. This successful form of therapy emphasizes the link between thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and more importantly, it attempts to change harmful thoughts for life-affirming ones. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a form of therapy that helps treat depression by exploring in detail the nature of one’s relationships. IPT is based upon the idea that regardless of genetics, depression develops within the context of relationships. Other forms of therapy that might be useful are Psychoanalysis and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming intimately aware of one’s inner and outer experience, which can also help with restoring the relationship with oneself.
Healing depression takes time. It’s not going to lift overnight. In fact, there might be some steps backwards even though you’re climbing upward and onward. For many people, healing from depression is more than just healing from an illness; it’s healing your life. It’s walking through the darkness in order to find the light, and making that kind of journey is none other than a heroic one.
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