In searching for a topic to write on, I reached out to my social media network for suggestions. The overwhelming response was from people wanting to read about depression. My initial thoughts were, ‘Depression?? Well that’s depressing’. Focusing on the negative often leads to a negative mindset and negative mood, which is the last thing I want readers to be left with! I pondered, how can I write about depression with a positive spin? I began to question, perhaps people are requesting information on depression because they want to be happier, not because they depressed? Sounds similar, but there is a difference.
A person who is clinically depressed, would meet the diagnostic criteria for depression. Some symptoms may include extreme fatigue, loss of motivation, consistent negative thinking, and hopelessness for the future. These symptoms often appear as episodes that can last days to weeks to months. In chronic cases, symptoms can be present for years. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 8% of the adult population will experience depression at some point. The treatment of depression is quite effective and symptoms can be alleviated often very quickly with few relapses in the future. An interesting twist on this, sometimes when the symptoms are alleviated, one is left with a sense of numbness or void. This void is not depression, it’s just unhappiness.
Self help books have become a huge trend in our society. Book stores have entire sections on how to better anything and everything in our lives and happiness seems to take up much of this section. Funny thing about happiness, it’s a temporary state. Somehow our culture seems to think we need to be happy and peppy all of the time with smiles big enough to show the world all of our teeth. Sometimes we look around at all of these big teethy grins and realize we are not smiling. Then the thinking starts. ‘Am I happy with my life?’, ‘Am I depressed?’, ‘Where is my big teethy grin?’. Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology, talks about this in his book Flourish. Seligman proposes that we, as a society, might need to turn our focus away from happiness and start focusing on well being. Once again, sounds similar but there is a difference.
Happiness is a temporary state of emotion and is often measured by cheery mood. Believe it or not, it’s ok to be in a funky mood, blue mood, lazy mood, or any other mood you have. Our emotional systems were built to feel a variety of feelings. Striving to stay in one mood all of the time is unrealistic and unhealthy. Well-being on the other hand is measured by 5 constructs: positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. Positive emotion includes happiness and life satisfaction. Engagement refers to being lost in a moment and completely absorbed by a task. Meaning refers to belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self. Positive relationships are key in feeling connected to others. Lastly, accomplishment is when a person pursues something for the sake of pursuing and completing it.
There are many simple things a person can do to help increase his or her well being. One such exercise is called ‘What Went Well’. Each night for a week, write down 3 things that went well that day and why they went well. These things may be small things, such as ‘my spouse left me the last of the ice cream’, or more important things. Next to each event, write why it happened. For example, you may write ‘because he is a very thoughtful fella’. Doing this exercise will help your brain start focusing on the positive aspects of your life and stop dwelling on the negative aspects. Give it a whirl! Chances are it will leave you with lingering feelings of the warm fuzzies. So how does this relate back to depression?
Sometimes in the therapeutic relationship, the counselor can help the client learn skills and strategies to lessen or eliminate symptoms of depression. Just because depressive symptoms are lifted (you have more energy, more motivated, sleeping and eating well, negative thinking patterns are gone) it doesn’t guarantee ‘happiness’. I would even go as far to say more clients seek counselling because they would like to be happier than because they are depressed. To have a full and engaging life a person needs to look at many aspects of how they are living in the world. So instead of treating depression, what would happen if we focused on increasing people’s well being? I would imagine a much more pleasant world.