For most of us, depression is seen as painful affliction that one wants to rid themselves of as soon as possible. Our minds are filled with ruminations that may be triggered by a divorce, a break up with a boyfriend, a fallout with a friend, a loss of a job, etc. These ruminations often take the form of regret (“I should have been a better spouse, friend, employee,” etc). Depression can be a real setback for a few weeks and even for months. One can say that these ruminative thoughts can often reinforce the depression and make things even worse. Because of this, therapists often try and break this downward spiral by using “thought stopping” techniques, which is a cognitive approach to stop these negative thoughts from keeping one from the door of despair. So, one can say that these ruminations are a waste of mental energy, or we can look at them as a window of opportunity for personal growth.
As a clinician, I see depression as a “red flag” that something is just not right in one’s life, and its time to explore the reasons why.
When we react to stress and trauma in our lives by becoming depressedwe often begin to solve our problems by asking important questions, like, “Was I too rigid, not loving enough? Was I not focused enough on my work? Did I come into work late much too often? Was I not compassionate enough in my relationship with my friend?” It is my belief that we often gain insights into our behavior that come out of depression, which can be valuable to our personal growth. Look at the works of our Romantic poets, like Gibran and Keats, who believed that sadness was a prerequisite for the literary life. It’s this sadness that increases brain activity and provides us with an intense focus, which helps improve our problem-solving skills. This focus and persistence can help one produce important works of art, but not without suffering. It’s this despair that brings one to the cutting edge.
Studies have shown that people with depression have a more accurate view of reality and can predict future outcomes.
So, if sadness has its benefits, then why are we so quick to use medication to treat depression from the onset? Can it not interfere with genuine recovery? Does it not give the patient the opportunity to walk away from the presenting problem(s) and not deal head-on with what’s underlying the depression? Is it not like treating a fever without looking at the underlying cause? I say, unless the patient presents with “vegetative symptoms” of depression, which include: not eating, sleeping too much or not at all, staying in bed all day, poor personal hygiene, excessive weepiness, and suicidal ideation, working closely with them to assist in the process of growth will produce a better outcome. We need to embrace this “tonic of despair” all the while knowing that the process is painful; but wisdom isn’t cheap.