For those who would rather watch a video, there is an abbreviated version of this article in the video located at the bottom of this page. Above all else, I hope to be useful to you.
“I think he’s depressed.” “They’re depressed, lol.” “Who knows if she’s depressed?” “He had anxiety and depression.” “Yo I feel depressed.” “That’s depressing.”
The word has been thrown into our language and like many words, it is a challenge for our minds to grasp the spectrum and depth of what it can mean, especially when a word depends on the uniqueness of the individual. Depression — no matter how mild or severe — is a word that should never be taken lightly. It is our responsibility to use this word carefully and take the right course of action when it is affecting us or someone we care about.
According to the American Psychiatric Association — DEPRESSION — the most common form of which, Major Depressive Disorder — is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, think and act. That might be obvious. So what are the details? It causes feelings of perpetuating sadness and/or a lack of motivation in activities and socializing. A sense of hopelessness resides. The loss of meaning to life ensues. 16 million American adults suffered from it in 2015 — roughly 7–10%. I can only imagine what that number is in 2019.
It is likely that you don’t fall into that 7–10%, but, there is a high chance you have felt social isolation and bouts of mild depression which tie to bouts of anxiety: I.e. questioning your position in the world, feeling lonely, occasionally spiraling down into the la la land of darkness where you feel there is no chance of getting out. That, followed by avoiding anything and everything, in order to make yourself feel safe.
Although in these instances it may seem like it is temporary and a subtly recurring struggle, staying quiet and not taking it seriously is the Wrong Thing To Do.
So what should you do?
I am a practitioner in my early years of clinical counseling for mental health. I was trained at a psychoanalytic clinic and have seen hundreds of clients from all different backgrounds, age ranges, and diagnoses. The answer to the question above is that there is no simple answer, and it is HIGHLY dependent on the individual and their predispositions. The people that end up making it into the clinic are a different subset of people, who, most likely have cycled through different avoidance tactics in their head before deciding that it was officially time to give therapy a try. Highly depressed clients require different treatments, but there is one characteristic I have repeatedly found that overlap with the majority of us who struggle with the milder versions of depression: lack of socialization.
Let me be clear. There is a large group of people who are quite social and have great relationships but are still clinically depressed. If you are that person, this article does not apply to you. If that is you, I would recommend seeing a doctor and in particular a psychiatrist.
Now, to the big group of us who can function most days but have some days in the middle of the week or the weekend where we get caught up in our own negative view of life and then let our stupid, irrational versions of ourselves take over: there is a way out of this. But it is a longer term approach that many of us quick-fixers don’t have patience for. Sorry if you can’t manage — life is going to be very hard for you.
The “low hanging fruit” requires us to begin developing and maintaining higher quality relationships. Socialization. Depression — and anxiety — is tied to a lack of feeling understood. It usually results in isolating yourself — sometimes it results in binge eating or bingeing social media — because there is a belief that no one will understand it. Is there a chance YOU don’t understand it? That’s quite possible. Extremely possible, actually. Take note of that right now.
Psychologist and social science columnist for the Wall Street Journal, Susan Pinker, states that direct person-to-person contact triggers parts of our nervous system that releases several neurotransmitters that regulate our response to stress and anxiety. “As a result of social interaction, dopamine is also generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain, it’s like a naturally produced morphine,” she explains.
Pinker also states, “Face-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now, in the present, and well into the future, so simply shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.” Keeping note that anxiety is not depression but it has a high co-occurrence with depression.
So how is this “low hanging fruit”? Because it’s accessible. It’s free. But you haven’t been able to grab it because you’ve let fear and silence take over.
We have officially untrained our in-person social skills with the advent of the internet. Because of that, we all need exposure therapy to something we were innately built to do.
At this point, we need whatever low hanging fruit we can reach. At least until the world of mental health is destigmatized. Until then, understand that you have LIKELY suffered from a version of depression even if it was a random occurrence. Take that seriously. And take responsibility for yourself. Understand the word, and do not take it lightly. When you get a cold, you find remedies and plan out a strategy to get rid of it. The same goes for these all-too-common downward spirals of our irrational, ego-driven minds. Find and foster relationships. Friends, colleagues, family. It’s free. But it takes effort. A worthwhile one, I may add.
I hope this was useful to you.
The abbreviated video version: