I got a call at work the other day from a man who was struggling to understand his wife’s depression. He said he had suffered from anxiety himself in the past but had come to realise it was just “rubbish thinking” and, once he realised that, he was able to “shake it off” and not give in to it. He couldn’t understand why his wife couldn’t make her mind up to shake her depression off too as he thought it was also just “rubbish thinking”.
I’ve had a theory about depression for many years now. I didn’t learn it during my studies and I have never seen, read, or heard of anyone else who thinks what I think. I have no real proof my theory is accurate but I am sure it is. It is based on all the things I have seen or learned over the years at university, during many years of treating depressed people, and most of all from my own life-long struggle with anxiety and depression.
If I had the time, energy, money and health to go back and finish my Masters degree I would do my thesis on this theory and prove it is accurate. For now, however, all I can say is I believe it satisfactorily explains why medication alone cures some people, why some people don’t need any medication and can overcome their depression as easily as this man did, and why some need years of therapy as well as medication and still, like me, struggle to overcome their depression.
As I told this man, this theory is not known, proven, approved, or being taught within the psychological profession as far as I know so the only authority it has is that I personally believe it is the truth.
The man said it helped him understand what is happening for his wife which made me think it might be a good idea to share the theory here in case it can help others. Maybe it will help you too.
You can go to any reputable website or book for information about the types of depression so I won’t say much about them apart from the fact that depression ranges from mild all the way through to the extreme mood swings of Bi-Polar disorder.
This theory focuses on where depression comes from because treatment often fails when people take a “one pill cures all” approach to this illness as many do. Treatment will also fail if the sufferer fails to get the kind of treatment their depression requires because they want a pill when they have the kind of depression that cannot be cured by pills.
I believe there are four causes of depression and treatment cannot succeed if the underlying cause of the depression is not addressed.
The first cause of depression, and the one that is the most well known, is physical.
Physical depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and the best way to cure it is with antidepressants. Antidepressants alter the chemicals in the brain and bring them back into balance.
A person with this type of depression is seriously ill. The depression throws them into a deep, dark, black hole where there is no light, no hope, no help. These people can be rich and still feel poor. They can be surrounded by people who adore them and still feel unloved. They can be superstars and supermodels and still feel like a failure or ugly. Reality has no place in the lives of these people because depression has stripped reality from their lives and sent them to hell on earth.
This kind of depression can be lethal as it is a common cause of suicide.
Counselling can help sufferers fight the negative beliefs the chemical imbalance is causing them to have and exercise can help by releasing endorphins into the brain to give them a bit of a “pick me up” chemically. Sometimes this type of depression responds to regular doses of sunlight too as some forms of depression are directly connected to the amount of sun a person is exposed to but this is not the kind of depression that a “mind over matter” approach can win with.
To really cure this sort of depression you need medication. Most people only need to take the medication until the chemical balance in their brain is restored and many never get the illness back. Some people recover fully but are vulnerable to the illness and find that, like a psychological cold or flu, it comes back now and then over the course of their lives and they need another round of medication to cure it again when it does come back. We all know when we are coming down with a cold but these people need to learn how to tell when they are coming down with a bout of depression so they can get treatment before the illness gets too strong a grip on them.
Some people, however, will need to take the medication for the rest of their lives to keep the illness under control. People with bi-polar, or people whose depression comes back soon after they finish taking each course of antidepressants, have brains that need chemical help to stay balanced. The brain is a physical body part and, like any body part, it can fail to function properly. There is no difference between having to take antidepressants to treat depression and having to take insulin to treat diabetes. Both simply help a person to stay well!
A lot of people hesitate to take antidepressants because they believe you can get addicted to them. Antidepressants are not a substance, like heroin or pain killers, that you can get addicted to. They work by regulating how the brain uses its own, naturally produced, “feel good” hormones. If the brain is already using these properly the antidepressants will have no effect on you at all which is why people often feel they don’t work.
It’s worth noting here, for bi-polar sufferers who tend to stop taking medication because it makes them feel “numb” or “like a zombie”, that the medication is restoring balance and the numb, zombie like, state is actually their brain functioning on normal amounts of the feel good chemicals. Many bi-polar sufferers are actually addicted to the overdose of those feel good hormones and the “high” it gives them during the manic stage of their illness. They are not aware that their “lows” are caused by their brain using up all the feel good hormones at once causing a shortage of them during their depressed stages. All they know is, without the medication, they feel things very strongly and feeling super awful at times seems to be worth it to be able to feel super good at other times. They just plain don’t like feeling “OK” and OK is the usual condition of a properly functioning brain.
The second cause of depression is instinctively understood by most people. I’ve often heard people with physical depression talk as if they believe they have this depression. They will say things like “I have no reason to be depressed” or “My life is perfect right now so why am I so depressed?” or “I have everything to live for so why do I just want to die?”
There are certain situations that are simply just depressing. The death of a loved person or pet, the loss of a home or job, relationship or financial woes, legal battles, poor health or pain issues and so on. The list of things that can go wrong is long. Everyone is unique in how well they are able to cope with these things. One person can soldier on in the face of multiple deaths and losses whilst another gets depressed over a single loss but everyone has their breaking point and most people will reach that point at least once in their life.
Most situational depression lifts once the situation changes or the person adjusts to their new situation but sometimes the situation doesn’t change or the person doesn’t adjust.
People in abusive relationships often suffer chronic depression because being abused is very depressing. People with long term health problems or ongoing pain are also prone to suffer depression because being in constant pain is also very depressing.
Medication isn’t going to help this kind of depression because it doesn’t target the cause of the depression. Counselling is what these people need. Counselling that helps them see they need to leave their abuser or counselling on how to manage their pain. Counselling that will help them manage, change, or adjust to their depressing situation is the only treatment that can help those who are suffering from this kind of depression.
In some cases, however, this type of depression can actually evolve into the physical kind as negative thinking, if it goes on for long enough, can actually rearrange the structure of the brain and cause a chemical imbalance. If that happens the person will need medication too.
I debated whether to call this inherited depression or learned depression and decided to call it inherited because learned implies the person had to put some kind of effort into learning it which is not the case.
I call it inherited because it is passed down in families, like unwanted heirlooms, by people who are suffering from depression whilst raising a child. The child who grows up in the home of a chronically depressed person can absorb their negative thoughts and behaviours and often grows up acting and thinking the same way they would if they had depression themselves.
The man who shook off his “rubbish thinking” and overcame his anxiety grew up with a mother who was a chronic “worrier”. He absorbed her way of thinking and became a worrier himself. When he took a good look at these thoughts he realised they did not really fit with who he actually was and he labelled them “rubbish” and discarded them.
This man was lucky because this type of depression can also lead to physical changes in the brain that result in physical depression but, in his case, that had not happened.
This kind of depression is usually easy to cure. Counselling will help them to shake off the inherited negativity and, if it has caused a chemical imbalance, medication can cure that and the person is likely to get well very quickly and stay well permanently.
Psychic (or psychological) Boils and Abscesses
The fourth cause of depression is having what I call “psychic boils and abscesses”. These are conditions that could be included in the Situational Depression category but I believe they are important enough, and common enough, to be given a category of their own.
Anyone who has ever had a physical boil knows these are extremely painful things and treating them is even more painful! They are little spots of infection that start under the skin and fester. Over time they grow causing the area to become more and more painful. They itch and twinge and throb and tingle and hurt like hell. Touching, pressing, or bumping a boil causes excruciating agony but, if left untreated, the infection continues so the boil gets bigger and bigger until, eventually, it will reach the surface and burst open. Small boils often do heal without treatment and, sometimes, they don’t even burst open but more serious ones need to be opened, drained of infection, and treated with antibiotics to get rid of them.
An abscess is similar to a boil but the infection starts much deeper down. If an abscess is left untreated it can also come to a head and burst open but, when it does, it doesn’t fix anything. Infection is worsened by exposure to the air and it keeps eating away at the flesh causing an ever widening, ever deepening, rotting hole in your flesh. If the abscess is in an area that doesn’t allow it to reach the surface skin it eats away at the flesh and organs nearby instead. An abscess also requires antibiotics but, if left untreated for too long, it will actually require surgery to remove infected flesh before healing can begin.
Psychic boils and abscesses are very similar to physical ones with one main difference. The psychic version can continue to cause agony for the entire length of a persons life and they will only kill you if the pain they inflict prompts you to suicide.
Psychic boils and abscesses develop when abuse injects poison into our minds and hearts. We respond to being badly treated with anger, hate, unforgiveness, outrage, sadness, and other negative emotions. Sometimes these negative emotions are directed at others and sometimes we direct them at ourselves but regardless of who we aim them at they have the potential to set up a psychic infection in us.
Most adults are able to heal from these infections without help but children are vulnerable to psychic boils and abscesses. The worse the abuse the more painful the resulting abscess or boil will be.
Most people who suffered abuse as a child will grow up with one, or more, psychic boils or abscesses. Sometimes the pain is a dull ache deep inside and sometimes it is excruciating agony. In all cases any time something touches or bumps the wound pain can explode through the person in an instant causing all sorts of reactions that leave bystanders at a loss to understand what has happened.
These people will often go for counselling because they are depressed and would like to get well. Counselling will almost always touch on a person’s history and, when it does, it also touches these psychic boils and abscesses. Pain explodes through the sufferer making them believe counselling “makes things worse” and they don’t go back.
The cure for these injuries is to open up the boil or abscess and clean out the infection in therapy but the cure can be so painful people would rather die than go through it! Nobody has a right to expect people to endure pain like that if they are not ready to face it but, as long as someone has painful psychic boils and abscesses, they are unlikely to be able to overcome the depression that these things will cause in them.
The wife of the man I mentioned earlier was struggling to cope with a quadruple whammy when it comes to depression. She had physical depression caused by being bi-polar and having to go through menopause, she had the situational depression of having a back injury that caused chronic physical pain and her much loved sister had recently died, she grew up with a parent who also suffered from bi-polar depression so she had inherited depressive ways of living and thinking that plagued her even before she developed the other types of depression and she had been abused as a child. The memories of that were so painful she barely made it through one counselling session before deciding counselling was only making things worse.
The best thing, the only thing, he can do for her is just be there for her to lean on when the load gets too heavy for her to bear! The best thing she can do for herself is take her medications as prescribed, make sure she eats properly and exercises, and find a counsellor who will respect her decision to leave her boils and abscesses alone, will help her overcome the parts of her depression that she has inherited, can provide her with a type of therapy called “pain management” to help her deal with her back pain and who can be there for her to lean on when her husbands support is not enough.
In time she may even feel strong enough to face dealing with her psychic boils and abscesses too and she can deal with those then if she chooses to.