Dr. A. Lynn Scoresby
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Why So Much Depression and How to Resolve It

November 29th, 2007 by Lynn


The National Institute of Mental Health recently reported the results of research about the number of people who experience depression. Having worked with depressed patients I have great compassion for anyone in that situation. So I read this study with interest. I noticed that in their effort to document how widespread depression is among Americans the authors of the study did not appear to explain why so many people experience this serious emotional disorder.

When a child or adult feels depressed the reduction in quality of life can be substantial. We need to understand why there is so much depression so we can eliminate the causes. I propose that generally we have so much depression because people have poor boundaries. These are boundaries between what they could and should do to protect and advance themselves as individuals, in a healthy way, and the environmental pressure they feel from the world around them. This pressure can be brought on by being acted upon by events, people, or situations. But, since all people have pressures and stress, the rates of depression cannot be explained by that alone. I believe that for many people depression is the result when people fail to establish responsible control for themselves This is done by knowing they can control some of what they think and feel, and that their actions are most often a result of their own choices. It takes a lot of work to first build and then maintain one”s sense of self and then reinforce that throughout life. When we do not do that well we become vulnerable. There are exceptions to this, of course, but I think I can support my belief by describing signs, types, and solutions for depression.

We understand that the signs of depression can include feelings of sadness, diminished interest or pleasure, sleep disturbance, lack of energy, feelings of guilt or unworthiness, difficulty making decisions, suicidal thoughts, unexplained anger, resentment about and criticism of others, blaming others, self pity, and self criticism. None of these, obviously, is positive.

We also understand there are several specific types of depression but most could be categorized into two general types. Reactive depression results from mental exhaustion where great pressure, distress, and environmental influence is high. The sense of stress can be due to feelings that one”s emotions are controlled by some external situation which may include a loss, too many demands, and trying to do too much.

Endogenous depression originates from an inherited and/or chemical condition which results in episodes of depression or mood swings. In this case, successful treatment usually involves a combination of psychotherapy and psychotropic medication.

I believe that most depression is of the reactive type and can be successfully resolved by a person understanding the conditions which may trigger it and then by making life style changes with or without therapy or medication.

Some of the conditions which create vulnerability to reactive depression include childhood trauma, physical abuse, excessive competitiveness, comparing oneself unfavorably with others, assuming too much responsibility for other people and situations, excessive emotional sensitivity and self absorption, lack of decision making skills and dependence on other people, little achievement, and excessive anxiety. If you see yourself in any of the foregoing you might consider that you are more vulnerable to depression and may solve some portion of it or prevent it by doing the following.

Some life style changes a person can make is to develop adequate and diverse social contacts, develop a routine of pleasurable activities, sleep, eat, and exercise regularly, set emotional boundaries and learn to assume responsibility for what is felt rather than blame others, if possible, avoid situations where you will feel a loss of control, focus on the present and the future rather than the past, actively create positive conditions through self motivated acts, control pessimism and create optimism, do several want to”s in addition to what you should do.

Except in those cases where there are inherited and/or chemical conditions which create a vulnerability to depression, it is possible for us to do many things on our own to create lives filled with happiness rather than suffer depression and its negative qualities. Promoting ourselves does not mean to elevate us over others. Nor does it mean to withdraw from others. It means to decide, to think positively, to act on and achieve important achievements. It means to feel in control of some things in our lives. When we are spending more of our time creating the positive, we increase our opportunities for happiness.

Posted in General, Mental Health

4 Responses

  1. Daniel Frost

    I’m currently reading Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self (Harvard: 1989), and I think he has some good insights into why we currently see so much depression. The general aim of the book is to show philosophically why we think about being a “self” in the way we do. Taylor thinks that having a moral framework which makes strong “qualitative distinctions” between better and worse life choices is an essential part of being a self, and I think this corresponds to what you identify as “having boundaries.” However, Taylor makes the point that in our age, one aspect of moral frameworks in general is that no one framework stands out as the framework which all people should agree to. To illustrate this, he cites the case the case of Martin Luther: “However one might want to describe this [Luther's feelings of guilt before he received grace], it was not a crisis of meaning. This term would have made no sense to Luther in its modern use that I have been describing here. The ‘meaning’ of life was all to unquestionable for this Augustinian monk, as it was for his whole age.” (18) He says this shift has a lot to do with our epistemological expectations: with the rise of science and other intellectual developments, we began to have certain new expectations about claims to knowledge. The upshot of this is that we have become much more skeptical about claims to “the good,” and hence the good is not something which we think is publicly shared. Therefore, it is up to each of us to construct our own visions of the good, but this is hard going, and thus many come up short before the task. Taylor explicitly takes up the problem of depression (briefly) on p. 19.

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