In the year 1917, Sigmund Freud wrote: “In mourning it is the world that has become poor and empty, in melancholia it is the ego itself.” A hundred years later, this famous description of the experience of depression has indeed stood the test of time—any contemporary therapist will tell you that the singular unifying feature underlying all presentations of depression is that sense of emptiness; that gnawing feeling of despair in your stomach, or that pesky voice in your head telling you, over and over, that you are deficient or worthless; that unflinching core belief that ‘something is wrong with me.’
In Canada, 5.5% of the population experiences depression, which amounts to 35 million individuals each year. In North America, depression occurs at a rate of 2:1 for women to men. People aged 25-44 have the highest rate of diagnosed depression, rates that are 50% higher than those aged 16-24.
Epidemiological studies of depression reveal that stressful life events and unsupportive relationships correlate positively with depression. One theory about depression, developed by psychologists Irene Stiver and Doctor Jean Miller, suggest that when the feelings that naturally arise after distressing life events receive no validation or empathy, a person’s feelings become repressed, and this contributes to the development of depression. When the people around oneself are conveying the message that one’s feelings are inappropriate or nonexistent, a person then begins to think to themselves, “I guess I shouldn’t be having these feelings, and since I am, it must mean that ‘what’s wrong’ is me.” This type of negative self-talk, and internalization of negative events can make any person vulnerable to depression! Once someone begins down the rabbit hole of self-criticism and rumination, depression can easily gain hold, and once it does, people tend to withdraw from friends, cease self-care, and lose the will to do anything that gives them pleasure or positivity.
To all readers experiencing depression, there is nothing wrong with you. Rather, as Jon Kabat-Zin writes in The Mindful Way Through Depression, “you have only been the victim of your own very sensible, even heroic, efforts to free yourself”—just as struggling in quicksand pulls you deeper into it rather than out of it). What he means is that, when people are depressed, they are more likely to flee from their painful feelings and battle them in an attempt to protect themselves. Kabat Zin continues: “because we can’t accept the discomfort of the message, we try to shoot the messenger and end up shooting ourselves in the foot.”
To overcome depression, one must first realize that avoiding discomfort and pain, and battling unpleasant thoughts and feelings, is precisely where depression begins. Mindfulness practices, and mindfulness-based therapies, are shown to be highly effective in treating depression. Mindfulness is the intentional awareness of the present moment without judging or labelling experiences, while practicing compassionate curiosity and acceptance for things just as they are.
If you are struggling with depression, the therapists at Kerry Moller & Associates are experienced in treating depression and would be honoured to support anyone seeking relief from what can be a very debilitating experience. As challenging as depression is, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and there is no shame in needing help getting there.
photo: Kristin Horsman