Off the Couch

A bit depressed

It always annoys me when people say “I’m a bit depressed today.”  Why? Becuase “depressed” is not an emotion, it’s a bit like being a little bit pregnant.  You either are or you aren’t.  Tony Murrell and I talked about this on the Radio Live Home and Garden show this week (Click here for the audio of the interview)

Depression is a serious and debilitating mental illness, at any one time mood disorders effect about 8% of New Zealander’s and many studies suggest it is growing.  But is it?

Prescription rates for anti-depressants continue to rise, having doubled since 2006.  At the same time we also know that more and more research is suggesting that actually “SSRI’s” or “Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors” which include Prozac, Aropax and others tends to have little affect on mild to moderate depression.

It definitely has no affect on “normal” unhappiness.

The danger, I believe, in treating unhappiness as a “negative emotion”, believing our selves to be “a little bit depressed” is we make a normal human emotional experience pathological and is so doing make ourselves want to reject it, avoid it and otherwise treat it out of existence.  We also minimize the very real suffering experienced by those with severe depression.

Sadness and depression are actually very different, related, but different.  Depression overwhelms us and affects our behaviour to the point where we can no longer function and no longer experience pleasure.  It affects motivation, sleep, eating and our ability to think and plan.  Most problematically it sticks around, unless treated.

Sadness like any emotion has a reason for being.  It tells us we are losing something or someone we value, it signals change and motivates us to focus on that so we can act to prevent the loss, if possible.  If not possible it forces introspection and makes us slow down and process the loss.  It’s painful, difficult to bear, but not inherently negative.  Nor should it be avoided.

And like any emotion mindfulness and acceptance skills can help us bear and experience sadness without needing to block it or avoid it.  And when we can be with our sadness with mindful compassion, it comes and goes like any other emotion.

After all being positive all the time ain’t that great either, as you can see below in this great film clip below once more from the RSA Animate series:

 

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