This blog carries on in more detail from my earlier blog: Depression 1: Causes. In situational depression, the individual is suffering from a conflicted situation. The trigger for the depression is a specific situation that, once resolved, will have the individual back to normal. Even in situational depression there are some personality factors and beliefs or attitudes that are not serving the individual.
The best way to understand the nature of situational depression is to demonstrate the forces at work with some examples:
Danny has been married for 20 years to Alison. Alison is not happy and tells him so. Whether he suspected her unhappiness or not, he has not been very happy himself. He knows they have grown apart but he has just continued along with the status quo expecting her to put up with it just as he is willing to.
Danny has invested a lot of he self esteem and identity into this relationship. Together they have accumulated houses and other assets. They have a shared history. They have children. They harbored dreams of growing old together. Both have invested a lot of energy and emotion into their marriage.
The risk taking part of Danny would like to finish this relationship that is not presently satisfying. But Danny’s fearful part objects. “Oh, no. We’ve put too much into this. Think about how would it be not having as much money. We would have to dilute the assets. Possibly be along. So much would need to change.” For Danny the thought of breaking up is terrifying. In fact, it’s so terrifying he doesn’t even let the thoughts or feelings fully surface. He represses the idea of splitting up and says he wants to stay married.
Unfortunately, the risk taking part that wants change sabotages his efforts to heal the relationship. He tends to be sulky, grumpy or angry much of the time. He feels stuck and starts becoming depressed. His heart isn’t in continuing the relationship but he is too afraid of the consequences of change. Unfortunately he cannot fully address the conflict because it is too threatening to think about. He cannot solve a problem of which he remains unaware.
Without an intervention, Danny is likely to drift further into depression and could become chronically depressed (see blog: Chronic Depression).
If Danny sought help, a good psychologist would ask questions that enable Danny to surface the underlying conflict. Then the psychologist would help him develop the confidence and skills to face the problem of his stagnant marriage.
Jenny is having an affair. Jenny dreams about a new relationship with her lover. The lover says he is willing to leave his unhappy marriage so he and Jenny can be together
The problem is Jenny doesn’t really approve of affairs. She is shocked that she is having an affair herself. Even though she has been in an unhappy marriage for a long time, she cannot forgive herself for cheating on her husband. At the same time, she loves being with her lover.
She has always wanted to be a good mother. Being a good mother is a major part of her identity. She thinks good mothers keep their families together. She would never want her children to suffer a broken marriage. She worries about how broken marriages affect children.
The risk taker part of her wants her to leave her unhappy marriage and bond with the man who is making her happy. The part of her that is deeply invested in being a good mother cannot even think about leaving.
She cannot imagine a resolution that satisfies these competing parts so she continues the affair while living with her husband. She is not being honest and she values honesty. Her self-esteem plummets. She is getting her needs met by the lover but at a high cost.
Jenny feels anxious and depressed. She struggles to fully articulate the problem. It seems like the conflict is staying married or not. But it isn’t. The conflict is an inner one, a conflict of needs. The big stumbling block is her image as a mother and the negative effect she believes she would inflict on her children if she sought her own happiness.
Jenny will continue to feel anxious and depressed until she resolves her conflict. Seeking help from a skilled psychologist would explore the reasons for the affair. She would work out whether to infuse new energy into her marriage or start facing her desire to leave. If she decides to leave, the therapist will correct some of her misconceptions and show her how to manage a breakup in a way that will minimize the impact on her husband and their children. With a change in attitude, she can meet all her needs.
These examples illustrate how depression can develop from a situation that the individual refuses to fully face. Of course, there are good reasons to avoid the problems. Neirther solution is attractive. Danny could face financial and emotional loss in resolving the conflict by leaving. Jenny’s deeply held values are in conflict.
In my next blog, Depression 3: Resolution, I discuss these examples in more detail and show how their conflicts can be resolved.