Depression is endemic in our society. At any time a large number of the community are depressed. Research tells us up to seventy percent of people in Western Countries experience a depressed period in their life lasting at least two weeks.
Science does not agree on exactly what causes depression. There are indicators; there are risk factors, but nobody can conclusively say what is going on psychologically.
After many years of counseling hundreds of people with depression, I see a pattern in their condition and situation. I see people in a state of conflict. Often they don’t fully realize they are struggling with conflict. They are too low, sad, unmotivated and depressed to have the clarity to see what is going on. They have automatically shut down to protect their sanity and survival. Shutting down is a mechanism of defense, a mechanism of protection.
People shut down without realizing why they are shutting down. They just gradually become weaker, fatigued, bored, unmotivated and apathetic. Sometimes there are brief blowups of anger, sometimes there are crying spells and sometimes there are obsessive thoughts of worthlessness and helplessness running around in their head. As they shut down emotionally and physically, they gradually withdraw from full participation in life.
Some people have little awareness of what is happening to them. They do not know how to seek help or articulate their needs. Sadly some of these people occassionally commit suicide.
Depressed people withdraw because they have a conflict they cannot resolve. In effect, they are giving up. They feel flat emotionally and exhausted physically. They can start having suicidal thoughts. They are starting to think they don’t want to live anymore. The whole process of depression is a process of shutting down from life.
Something very interesting is going on here. Our psyche appears to have an inbuilt mechanism of protecting the individual from the conflict that cannot be resolved. It seems this mechanism is very effective because most of the depressed people, who arrive in my office, have no idea what is going on. The conflict itself can be so overwhelming; the individual has minimized it or blocked it out.
It is difficult to understand that we would block out such a meaningful and important problem, but we do. The mechanism is so effective some people will shut down and kill themselves without fully understanding that there is a way out.
The conflict itself is very meaningful. It’s meaningful because it involves two options; neither of which are palatable to the individual who is depressed.
There is a part of the depressed person that wants to move forward and make changes, and there is another part of the individual that refuses to accept the situation and wants to stay the same. One is the risk taker part and the other is like a safety officer. These two parts are in conflict and neither approach feels doable to the individual.
There is a good reason why the conflict is difficult to resolve. The individual has a huge proportion of his or her personality invested into both of these paths and there is a lot to lose.
This is the first in a series of six blogs on depression. In blog 2, I am going to discuss situational depression, using some examples. In blog 3, I will continue with the examples and explain how psychologists can help resolve situational depression. In blog 4, I address chronic depression and in blog 5, episodic depression. In blog 6, I give reasons why depression can run in families and why anxiety sometimes accompanies depression.
Are you struggling with depression? North Brisbane Psychologists can help. Book an appointment today!