Oct 7, 2011
Depression Is Not Simply an Intellectual Error
When I tell my wife I’m depressed, she’ll often ask, “Why?”
I usually explain that, at least for me, depression is rarely a response to some negative event. If it were, I would call it “sadness” or “unhappiness” or “disappointment.”
Depression, by contrast, is an all-permeating negative attitude or perspective, probably stemming from a genetically determined neuro-chemical fluctuation. In other words, when I’m depressed, I’m not depressed because something bad happened or something good didn’t go my way; I’m depressed because I have a tendency to depression (and, some would point out, a countervailing tendency towards mania).
It’s natural, when someone is feeling down, to try and buoy their spirits by reminding them of all they have to be grateful for (much as this blogger does in response to a recent suicide). “You still have your health!” “You’ve got friends who like you and a family that loves you.” “At least you’re not rotting away in a Turkish prison.” Etc.
The problem is that depression is not an intellectual error. It’s not something that will go away if you just “look at the facts” or “do the numbers.” In other words, it’s not a (falsely drawn) conclusion which can be rectified if you just check your work and figure out where you went off track.
The “count your blessings” approach can’t dislodge depression because depression doesn’t arise from miscounting. In my experience, however, it can be addressed with exercise, sleep, proper diet, a change of scenery, time spent with friends, etc. In other words, actions that change the chemical makeup of your body, rather than arguments that change your mind.
Depression manifests in our consciousness; we ought to treat it by way of the flesh in which that consciousness is embedded.
That’s really on target, Matt. Good stuff.
Great writing and I agree that depression is definitely something that stems from one’s genetic makeup or physical/chemical changes in the body either from an illness or some type of stressful situation that a person goes through. I typically tell people to count their blessing not as an instantaneous way of dislodging depression but it all has to do with mind-body connection as you have stated with depression manifesting in our consciousness. Counting your blessings is just a way of learning to “train the brain” to look on the bright side of things vs. the negative. And it takes much training. It’s definitely not something that can happen overnight nor is this an end-all to remedy depression. There are so many other things that go along with counting your blessings in retraining your brain for the purpose of creating new neural pathways and healing the function of neurotransmitters. The negative attitude and perspective can be altered.
Again, great writing!
Melinda – Thanks for taking the time to leave this comment.
I think you hit on the flipside implication of my post. Yes, the body influences consciousness (Sein bestimmt Bewusstsein) on fundamental level. But it does not influence it exclusively. Consciousness, seen from the perspective of self reflection (consciousness involves being aware of oneself as aware), strongly influences itself. Furthermore, it has an equally reflexive influence on the body. We are able to take care of ourselves and others as a direct result of being conscious of ourselves and others.
This reflexive influence means that we can train ourselves: our minds and our bodies. I mean, let’s face, it’s not our bodies that get us to the gym in the morning! Counting blessings, mindfulness meditation, prayer, etc. are, as you rightly point out, practices that, although cloaked in spirituality, train the body to maintain a positive mental attitude, even in the face of something as intense and seemingly all-permeating as depression.