And we need to change our outlook and approach to it
We are overwhelmed with depression. It's become so commonplace and pervasive that it's just become normal like a part of our daily lives and while I always encourage people to not just accept this as normal, I also understand that we are collectively struggling to see through it. We do, in fact, have some very good reasons to be depressed.
I talk about this often, I don't buy into the notion that people are dealing with some kind of chemical imbalance. If that were true then we'd be forced to accept that our way of living is conducive to good mental health but the problem is chalked up to some kind of personal flaw or defect and I just can't get there.
We don't live the way humans are supposed to live, we live more like caged zoo animals. Our lifestyle and way of living have become so much more shallow and empty when it seemed it couldn't get much more so. I'm serious about that zoo animal comparison, by the way, I recently heard the word, "zoochosis" which is a reference to the obvious decline observed in zoo animals when they endure sustained captivity. Orcas in captivity, for example, often show a collapsed dorsal fin which is rarely observed in them in the wild. Honestly, it kind of seems like our behavior isn't all that dissimilar to that of caged animals.
It turns out that animals display a lot of troubling and unusual behavior when they are forced to endure prolonged captivity and our modern way of living doesn't seem terribly different. We have good reasons to be depressed, I'll list off a few of them.
We lack meaningful connections - I am taking this idea from a book that I read about depression a few years ago called Lost Connections in which the author asserts that we are depressed because we lack meaningful connections in our lives. Examples would be that we lack meaningful work, we don't have a meaningful connection to a hopeful future, we lack meaningful connections to nature and we lack meaningful connections to each other. But I'll get to that in more detail. I make the argument that most of us don't have much in our lives, at all, that is meaningful. We suffer from junk values, junk relationships and the way we pass our time is one of consumption. We consume information and stuff without ever really doing enough to provide for ourselves. We're depressed partially because we're woefully unfulfilled. We look for fulfillment from things that cannot provide it.
We're totally dependent - Self-reliance is empowering and positive. We struggle to find a purpose in living, in part, because we just don't do enough for ourselves and so we struggle to find purpose in our daily lives. We've been duped into thinking that having stuff and conveniences is what makes us happy but it doesn't. We quite literally get almost anything and everything from someone or something else and it's just not good for us. When we do stuff for ourselves, we become empowered and walk the path to fulfillment but we don't have that, at least not anymore. We're meant to do things, not have everything provided for us, very much like wild animals. When we do things for ourselves, we're naturally going to feel as though our lives have more purpose.
Conformity - We live in a culture and society that demands conformity of thought, word and action. More so, perhaps, than we have seen in a long long time. Even just asking honest questions motivated by curiosity can be met with aggressive opposition. From a mental health perspective, we should be taking a closer look at how the social and political climate is affecting us on an individual level as well as how it might be affecting our relationships with friends, family and romantically. People find it difficult to have honest discussions with other about difficult issues and our society doesn't do well with differing perspectives. Many of my clients express a fear of conflict or contention and they go to great lengths to avoid it and it often comes at a great cost. Our fear of being authentic and the fear of expressing ourselves honestly is stifling us, it's causing us to be depressed. There's no mistaking it, we are under tremendous pressure to conform to ideas, to emotions or even a specific life path. Let's also talk about how fear contributes to depression.
We're afraid - Fear leads to depression. You won't be able to change my mind about this. I could write volumes about fear and the detriment that it is having on our collective mental health. We're a culture of fear. Anxiety and depression often go together like steak and potatoes because the folks that always listen to their fears are also the ones that trim things away from their life because there's some fear and anxiety involved. We're depressed partially because we've forgotten how to step outside of our comfort zones. Fear comes with the myth that safety is the most important thing. A life of fear and safety is a miserable one and, I would argue, one hardly worth living. Fear keeps us from trying new things, talking to new people and going after the things that would really make us feel alive. What's sad and unfortunate is how many people I've seen that don't really have good reasons to be so afraid. They're only experiencing thoughts and emotions rather than real-life events that would cause them to be so shut down and paralyzed.
We're missing close human connections - It's incredibly sad and tragic that so many young people nowadays are missing out on close friendships and close human connections. We've deteriorated to a state in which we're afraid to be vulnerable with each other in a society that has a low tolerance for any deviation from certain perspectives or viewpoints. We live under the emotional burden of a certain demand for social conformity and it has brought total destruction to our closest relationships. I had a client tell me recently that he felt like he had a terrific life but what he wanted, more than anything, was to be able to have close connections with other people again and I agreed with him because my personal life has been lacking the same thing as well. It seems as though most of us have lost friendships over social and political issues and we've lost the ability to sit down and talk through them rationally. These issues are so complex with so many nuances and gray areas and instead of being committed to listening to each other and trying to understand where they are coming from, we jump to judgments and react with anger and we've not just become disconnected from each other but we've started to see each other, more and more, as enemies. The fact is, we need human connection. It's one of our basic needs. We need deep core connections with the high levels of vulnerability that come with a high payoff. It gives a sense of connection and purpose in life and without these connections, we'll always feel like something is lacking at the very least and at the worst it will cause the fast acceleration of most mental illnesses.
We're lacking hope for a more positive future - Let's be honest, we're living in what seems to be a dark time. I was recently reading a book that was talking about the baffling and puzzling pattern of human behavior that we find ourselves in. We seem to be accelerating our own path of destruction. Everything good seems to be systematically removed from our lives and sometimes it just seems like we're just too sick and depressed to be able to do much about it. So many people have been giving into hopelessness. They're just giving up and giving in. We want to have good lives. Technology has made big promises to make us happy and delivered us only fleeting pleasure and escapism. The state of the economy and the outlook of our lives in a financial sense is causing a lot of people to experience a lot of despair. They feel stuck in this unalterable fate and it's justifiably causing them to experience depression.
Our lives lack purpose - Many young people over the years have expressed to me that they don't see the point in living. They talk about how life just seems totally pointless and it's no wonder that they feel this way when our way of living really does lack meaning and purpose. Our lives now just seem to be a cycle of burdensome responsibilities, consumerism and escapism when what we need is to find what we can really fill it. We can find purpose, without a doubt, but we have to be deliberate and intentional about pursuing it and finding it. Without a sense of purpose, we won't be able to escape this state of depression.
Repressed emotions - From a mental health perspective, we are existing in what I have dubbed 'the great repression.' Repression is a maladaptive defense mechanism in which an individual stuffs or bottles things up. Most people are doing this to a fairly severe degree and it's making us physically and mentally sick. We're not meant to hold all of this in and it's causing us to shut down. I've noticed that when people sit still, these repressed emotions start bubbling to the surface and they immediately reach for some sort of escapism and the repression of emotions continues. The trouble is that the more we repress the harder it gets to repress and it all has to come out somehow. It does come out, and how. It shows in destructive habits, depression, anxiety and even suicide.
So many things just seem to be working against us - It's hard to eat well, get enough exercise, drink enough water, get enough sleep and have consistently positive human interactions just to name a few. We also don't get enough consistent sunlight, laugh enough, have enough fun or experience consistent enough joy. Our meaningless jobs take up so much of our lives and our identity, we've become obsessed with wealth, stuff and constant comparisons. The list of things that cause us depression goes on and on. It seems as though we don't live to live any longer and we've forgotten how to do so. This life that we live just seems so damn dystopian sometimes. Is this real? I find myself asking this question often.
We just don't have good education or understanding about what depression is - Most people don't have a solid understanding of what depression really is or why it exists. When I ask people to tell me what depression is, they almost universally tell me that it's "sadness" which is completely false. Sadness is a healthy emotion when depression is not. There's also a lot that has been bought into the narrative surrounding 'chemical imbalances' in the brain, specifically that the brain doesn't produce enough serotonin and medication is needed to correct it but there isn't any supporting literature on this. Science doesn't support it. This story of low serotonin in the brain comes unraveled really quickly when you start asking some of the more hard hitting questions. The fact of the matter is that many many things can contribute to feelings of depression. It can even be a case of low vitamin D and I'm speaking from personal experience on that. If our brains aren't producing serotonin then we should seriously consider whether or not we get serotonin from things like positive social relationships or a general sense of wellbeing when we just don't have enough wellness in our lives.
I realize that I'm painting a bit of a grim picture here and perhaps it is actually very grim. I'm certainly suggesting that it is. Our world, our culture and our society isn't going to deliver happiness or fulfillment to you. You have to go out and find it, you have to carve it out with your own two hands. I'm not going to lie. It takes a lot of courage because there's a good chance that you're going to have to take a lot of it on by yourself unless, of course, you have the support of a good therapist.
Most people in your life probably just encourage you to conform. They probably tell you to go college, get a job, buy a house, get married, have kids, blah blah blah; it's the same path they're following even though they're completely miserable so it obviously wouldn't make any sense for them to encourage you to follow it as well but here we are. There are far too many people wasting their lives in these ways. As a mental health professional, I feel obligated to point it out as plainly as I can. We have good reasons to be depressed and we don't do ourselves any favors when we talk as though our depression is chalked up to some kind of chemical defect in our brains. As a seasoned professional, I just know that it's much more complicated than that. We, in fact, have good reasons to be depressed.
I also know that depression can be improved. People can get better. Without a doubt. I've seen it happen many many times over the years. I can get you going on making your life better so give me a call or send me an email.