“…This incredibly isolating experience called ‘depression’—and it’s isolating to a greater extent than I imagined survivable—ultimately reconnects you with the human community in a deeper, wider, and richer way.” -Author, Parker Palmer, on making meaning after depression.
Depression is common, but the experience of depression doesn’t feel common. In depression, you feel lonely, isolated, overwhelmed, and afraid. This state of being is exhausting. The everyday tasks of maintaining your life become unbearably painful. Vitality is lost and you feel like a burden and a fraud. Or you simply don’t feel at all.
There might have been some sort of instigating factor, like a major loss or life change. Sometimes depression is a longstanding response to early adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). As children, we had very little control or agency over our lives. Neglect or abuse from caregivers destroys our sense of safety and shapes our world view.
Maybe there was no perceivable cause, and suddenly you realize you are not experiencing life like you used to. You might think the way you’re feeling now is not a big deal, but you’ve noticed it’s affecting things in your life, so you wonder what, if anything, might make you feel better.
What helps us through depression?
When we remove shame from the experience of depression, it lessens our suffering. We know that depression can happen to anyone. It’s not your fault you feel this way.
While well-meaning people in our lives might offer advice to us that is less than helpful, the steady, patient presence of loved ones around us can help – people who maintain confidence that we will eventually pull through this period of time.
Medication continues to help many people return to themselves and their lives. What works for one person with depression might not work for another, however, so having the individual, consistent attention and guidance of a therapist is important.
A skillful therapist will first welcome you with compassion and then begin to explore with you the multiple factors that keep your depression activated.
Emotion is information that we feel physically in our bodies. Feelings of sadness, anger, and despair tell us there might be dissonance in our life. In therapy, emotions are respected and welcomed. Therapists give us a safe place to feel and process our emotions, at the level we can tolerate them, and support us if there is change needed in our lives.
The thoughts we have can be as reflexive and automatic as breathing. Certain types of thoughts can keep depression activated. In therapy, therapists help us slow down to catch and review our thoughts. For instance, consider the thought “I am worthless.” Do we totally believe this thought, or do we only partly believe it? Can we discover through any evidence in our lives that this thought is untrue? If so, we can dismiss what isn’t true. If we discover that there is a kernel of truth to a thought, we can shift our thinking from the shame-filled definition of “I am bad,” to the empowering thought of, “I made a mistake,” or, “This is a problem to solve.”
Sometimes life situations can keep depression activated. Depression may be an adjustment to the death of a loved one, losing a job, experiencing a decline in health, or being in a bind. Therapists help us address our specific situation and explore how much we have control over and how we can use our own voice.
There is continued research on the biological factors that cause depression. The conditions in certain regions of the brain, brain cell neurotransmitters, and genes all likely play a part. The effect of chronic stress on the body can also contribute to depression, and antidepressant medications are known to reduce depressive symptoms from chronic stress.
Therapists encourage us to lean into resources that restore our sense of hope and peace, like friends, family, favorite activities, spiritual practices, and community. There is a way through depression that has the capacity to connect us deeply with each other through empathy for the suffering we’ve experienced and with all of life through stronger courage. After surviving depression, we can hold that hope for each other.
- Free screening for Depression from Mental Health America
- What Causes Depression?
- Depression Signs, Symptoms, Latest Treatments, Tests, and More
- “Welcome to the Human Race” an Interview with Parker J. Palmer on the Topic of Depression
If you’re ready to meet with a therapist but find making appointments difficult, take one minute to fill out our contact form, and one of our Intake Practitioners will reach out to walk you through the process of scheduling your first appointment.
Clinically Reviewed by Carol Smith, LMFT (TN License #784)