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Society causes depression. -- S Hein


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Depression as a Secondary Emotion

Depression may be thought of as secondary emotion. This means that there are other feelings which contribute to and cause it.

For example, one might feel alone, lonely, rejected, discouraged, loss, grief, unfulfilled, disconnected, uninspired, invalidated, used, abused, unproductive, unaccomplished, uncertain, misunderstood, pessimistic, powerless, etc. Together, all of these feelings drain our energy, kill our motivation.

The Value of Identifying Specific Feelings

When depressed, or preferably before, it helps to isolate each specific feeling which contributes to the over-all loss of motivation and energy. When the specific feelings are identified, you have more information with which to work. From this information you will be better prepared to take action or least think about a plan to address each specific negative feeling individually. With each specific negative feeling, ask yourself, "What would help me feel less (lonely, unproductive, discouraged)"

Helpful Questions to Ask Yourself

Here are some questions adults might ask themselves which might help you if you are trying to understand your own depression: (These don't apply as well to teenagers living with their parents)

  • Have I lost something? A belief? A dream, a relationship? A vision? Is there some disillusionment? Some unmet expectation? Unfulfilled desire?
  • Am I feeling productive? Am I accomplishing anything?
  • Do I feel focussed? Do I have any goals I am working towards?
  • Am I feeling pessimistic about something? About several things? Am I feeling discouraged about something? Hopeless?
  • What beliefs are helping me feel pessimistic, discouraged, hopeless?
  • Am I looking for something on the outside to happen before I will feel better?
  • Am I feeling dependent on someone?
  • Do I feel resentful about something? About someone?
  • Am I feeling disconnected from my emotional support system? Do I have an emotional support system?

Then ask yourself:

  • What would help me feel more optimistic? More encouraged?
  • What beliefs can I change?
  • What can I find to appreciate? To be thankful for?
  • What would help me feel more connected to others, or less dependent on them?
  • What could I do to strengthen my emotional support system?
  • What small goal could I achieve right now that I am sure I can do?

Taking your feelings one by one helps you feel less overwhelmed. And it helps you identify you emotional needs. When you feel better in just one area, it helps you feel more capable of handling the other negative feelings.


How to Help Someone Who is Depressed

Sometimes when someone is depressed and not talking people will say, "What are you thinking?" For many people, this is not a helpful question. When they are depressed it is too hard to answer that question.

When you are depressed your energy level is very, very low. To explain what you are thinking simply takes too much energy.

That is why it is better to ask someone how they are feeling, if you need to ask them anything at all. There is a chance that they can find one word to summarize how they are feeling, or one word to tell you the main feeling. For example, they might say, "Alone." This could be a start to helping them talk.

Or if it is too difficult for them to say anything you might get them some paper and a pen, or colored markers.

Or you might show them a copy of the common negative feelings and ask them to just circle the ones they are feeling.

One of the keys to helping someone who is extremely depressed and not talking is not to ask them to do anything which requires a lot of effort, or even any effort. As mentioned above, asking them to tell you what they are thinking is probably something which requires a lot of effort at that moment. Also, if you ask them what they are thinking, they might feel pressured to say something and since they can't, they only feel worse and less understood. If you get frustrated with them they will feel disapproved of on top of everything else. When someone is depressed, mostly they need to know someone cares about them and won't reject or abandon them. If they are asked what they are thinking, and they can't reply at that moment, or if they asked, or told to do anything which they can't do they may be afraid of your rejection or disapproval, which is causing even more discomfort for them.

You might ask something like, "Are you afraid of telling me what you are thinking or how you are feeling?" They might say yes. Or they might say nothing. Here is a case story:

The other day I asked someone if she was afraid to tell me what she was thinking and she said nodded her head yes. So this was a small step forward. I think she felt a little more understood, which in turn helped her feel less afraid to start opening up, which she did shortly after that.

More Suggestions

- Don't tell depressed people what you think. If they tell you something, don't disagree. Just listen.

- If they have an idea, don't discourage it. Just listen.

- Don't try to explain anything. Just listen and let them come up with their own explanations. If they want to hear your opinion about something, they will probably ask you.

- Don't say things like

Maybe it is because...
She probably....
I think it is because...
It could be because...
That is because...

- Don't tell them what you think before you tell them how you feel. Or maybe, don't tell them what you think at all.

- Show them that you care by staying with them, if that is okay with them.

- Give them some control by asking things like "Is it okay if I stay here?"

- If you need to leave, tell them where you are going and when you will be back so they won't feel abandoned. If possible, ask them if it is okay if you go before you leave..

- Help them feel in control

- Ask if you can sit next to them. If they cant talk ask if they could give you some signal for a yes or a no answer such as showing one or two fingers. Or if they would like you to take their hand, ask them to squeeze it once for yes and twice for no.the more in control they feel, the safer they will feel and the less pain.  

- If they cant move or talk or express anything, tell them how you feel, if it is not something negative. Show acceptance, caring, understanding, patience.

- Try to reduce their fears you will abandon them.

Nature's Purpose for Depression

Depression has a natural purpose and survival value for the human species. It causes us to slow down and rest. This provides us with an opportunity to think. If we use this as an opportunity to reflect on why we are depressed, and to identify our unmet emotional needs, we can start to get some insight into what changes we need to make in our own individual lives, and in society as a whole.

Depression, Medication, Cause and Effect and Society

This is in response to a letter from a site visitor asking me what about the use of medication to treat depression.

Hi Dave,

You asked about medication.... generally I am opposed to it. The main reason is that it does not address the underlying causes of the depression.

It does nothing to improve the social and family conditions. It just perpertuates them, in my opinion.
For me, depression has a purpose. It causes us to slow down and rest, and think. If we use this as an opportunity to think about why we are depressed, for example to identify the specific unmet emotional needs, we can start to get some insight into what changes we need to make. I think most of us could use some slowing down. I think if we took time to listen to each other, for example, there would actually be less depression.

I also believe that if we would stop and ask why we are working so hard, and reflect on what is really important, we would see that relationships, and inner peace are what are important, not money and material things. We would then invest more energy on self-growth and personal relationships.

I have gone through lots and lots of depression, even feeling suicidal. Always, though, I have come out of it with some new awareness.

I see nothing particularly wrong with depression. What I think is wrong is people who act like it is a moral flaw or something, and people who want everyon to just keep working and "getting on" with things. I have said, only half-jokingly, that if you are not depressed at least once a week, then something is wrong!

I think depression helps us see the pain and sadness in the world and there is a lot of it to see.

I read that depressed people are more realistic, by the way. (I don't think the study talked about which was the cause and which was the effect though!)

There was a book called The Right To Feel Bad... I have some notes from it on this page


It is worth a look. (Unfortunately, the book is now apparently out of print and unavailable. This may be a reflection of the prevailing view that it is not okay to feel depressed! People want to hear how to quickly get undepressed, I guess, not how depression might actually be helpful.)

Something else good about depression is that it can get you closer to your feelings if you don't try to numb yourself from them. This closeness helps you identify with other people. Not just depressed people but with people who might be lonely, or discouraged, or invalidated, or judged, or unaccepted, or confused or grieving the loss of something.

One big problem in society is lack of connection, so if we can connect on an emotional level with other people when they feel something like one of the many primary feelings which contribute to depression, we feel more connected and they feel less alone and more understood.

Well I hope this helps a little bit. You have helped me think through these things a bit more.


Here is another letter to Dave

Another letter to Dave

Hi again Dave,

Sorry for the delay. I wanted to wait till I had time to read your letter carefully. I am usually rushed when I am on the computer.

But I want to say a couple things. First, you are an extremely insightful and self-aware person.

Your letter brought me to near tears. You describe things so articulately. Only an exceptionally aware and intelligent person can do that.

On a more practical level, I support the idea of "therapy" or talk therapy let's say. And groups. I started an informal men's group once with the help of a guy who had been in one. It was helpful for me. I also went to various other support groups such as the 12 step ones, even though I wasn't alcoholic or a child of an alcoholic. The problems were similar and it helped to hear others talk so openly. I highly recomend them, as long as u don't get dependent on them, but u dont seem like u would.

Please keep me posted with how things are going. I cannot always promise a speedy reply of even a reply at all, but I can promise that I will read your letters. Sometimes I am traveling and have to pay for internet time by the hour and I never have enough time to answer my business type mail and my personal friends type mail.

About not invalidating people. Of course I will recommend you read my pages on
validation and invalidation again even if u have already. I think they are the best around! lol

But generally one tip is to just say 'yeah' when someone tells u something. I find that the less I say the more helpful it is almost, but it depends on the person.

This morning I listened to someone for nearly three hours straight and I barely said 50 words I think.

Something else, you are an excellent writer. I would suggest writing in one of the online diaries. Check one of the search engines for online diaries.
http://freeopendiary.com is one. There you can meet other people of like intelligence, emotions, issues etc.

Generally the people are incredibly supportive. writing there helped me find my best friends. i wrote honestly there and people who related to me and connected with me wrote back over time and friendships developed. i found who i could be myself with and still be accepted. this is an incredibly powerful feeling, to feel completely accepted by someone. i also felt supported, believed in etc etc. my online friends filled my the emotional needs which my family left unfilled. probably they did worse than just not fill my needs, they probably moved me from a content child to a needy adult.

i dont remember u talking much about ur family. i think this is important to look at. most "therapists" dont seem to want to get in to family stuff. i can only speculate as to why.

it sounds like the person u are talking to is okay so far. how much do u feel understood by him from 0-10? how much do u feel cared about? I am unusual in that I think it is important for us to know someone cares about us, even a professional.

i had a lawyer once who i paid a lot of money too. but i dont think he cared about me much at all. he could have just as easily represented the other side of the case i think.

probably we need to learn to care about ourselves, accept ourselves, to accept ourselves etc. but it sure helps if someone else cares about us, accepts us admires us, appreciates us, values us and so on.

did i ask u to take a look at my mom test?

if not, please do when u have time... and add any additional questions u can come up with.


finally, your writing is so good that i really would like to share it with my site visitors. i used my letter to u as a basis for a section on a page i just started on depression.

best wishes, i invite you to write again.


Depression and Learned Helplessness

Here is a quote from the Neogenisis site about depression and learned helplessness

The theory of learned helplessness was then extended to human behavior, providing a model for explaining depression... Depressed people became that way because they learned to be helpless. Depressed people learned that whatever they did, was futile. During the course of their lives, depressed people apparently learned that they have no control.

Learned helplessness explained a lot of things, but then researchers began to find exceptions, of people who did not get depressed, even after many bad life experiences. Psychologist Martin Seligman discovered that a depressed person thought about the bad event in more pessimistic ways than a nondepressed person. He called this thinking, "explanatory style," borrowing ideas from attribution theory.

For example, lets say you fail a math exam. How do you explain why? You could think:

1) I am stupid.

2) I'm not good in math.

3) I was unlucky, it was Friday the 13th.

4) The math teacher is prejudiced.

5) The math teacher grades hard.

6) I was feeling ill that day.

7) The math teacher gave an expecially hard test this time.

8) I didn't have time to study.

9) The teacher grades on a curve.

Seligman found that these explanations could be rated along three dimensions:

Personalization: internal vs. external

Pervasiveness: specific vs. universal

Permanence: temporary vs. permanent

He found that the most pessimistic explanatory style is correlated with the most depression: The statement "I am stupid" is classified as internal (use of I), universal, and permanent. This response conveys a sense of discouragement, hopelessness, and despair.

On the other hand, a more optimistic person would blame someone or something else, such as "The math teacher gave an especially hard test this time." The most optimistic explanatory style is external, specific and temporary. Conversely, for a good event, the explanatory style reverses. For example, for a perfect score on the math exam, the depressive would say: "I was lucky that day," discounting his intelligence. The optimist would say something much more encouraging, such as "I am smart." We often learn explanatory styles from our parents.

A copy of this, with some other info. is found on this page: Learned Helplessness and Depression



beating_the_blues - book that recommends "dong the opposite of what your depression tells you to do" - moved to p1