Do you or anyone that you know suffer or suffered from depression or anxiety? If so, do you know what the underlying symptoms are?
The use of medication, to reduce anxiety and to lift depression, has become common place to the point where many of them are in our supply of drinking water. These come from either people flushing unwanted medication down the toilet or the natural excretion of the medications in our urine.
In the UK we currently write some 46 million prescriptions a year for antidepressants. Is all this medication really needed?
With both anxiety and depression we need to take into account the ‘clinical’ aspects and the psychological aspects. To be clinically depressed or anxious means that the body chemistry is mis-functioning. Just as when the pancreas is not working properly and we would take insulin to balance the system or with the thyroid when we correct the imbalance with thyroxin. The same is also true with depression so that in the brain, at the pituitary end of things, we may need to regulate levels of serotonin chemically. When depression is not clinical it is described as ‘reactive’.
Having made that distinction, the levels of clinical depression are relatively low. The vast majority of depressions are reactive. This means that an experience or an event has created a chain of reactions that have led to the development of symptoms that can, if not treated by psychotherapy, become the learned habits that eventually are described as our behaviour. People say to me “it’s just the way I am” and I say “no, it is how you have learned to be”.
In anxiety we are projecting forward into images and ideas of a negative future that may never happen and living those idea in the present as though they are happening right now. This means that we imagine a negative scenario and our body systems act out the images as though they are happening in the present. Our body chemistry, fight and flight endorphins, are firing off into our blood stream to face a foe, or situation that does not and may never exist.
Unlike anxiety, that looks forwards, depression looks backwards, replaying past events in the present as though they are still happening now. Where as anxiety powers up our chemical system, depression, as the name implies, depresses our chemical system and we become flat and inert. In depression our energy levels drop and we do less and less. Often we find the need to withdraw from the world and we can easily become agoraphobic.
What is depression telling us?
Needless to say happiness and depression do not generally go together. And yet, it could be that, depression may just be something that we should celebrate! If we look behind the depression what is depression telling us?
In the eastern approaches to psychotherapy depression is not always seen as something to be avoided or masked with medication. Rather it is seen as a sign that something in our life is wrong or out of balance. If used creatively depression can be a time of review and re-evaluation when we are able to take stock of things and get our lives back on track.
It is ok to take medication
Accepting that clinical depression concerns chemical imbalance that can only really be treated with medication. It seems strange that we are often embarrassed by the need for taking medication to regulate our mood. According to the World Health Organization, depression affects just over 120 million people worldwide. At least one fifth of the UK population will suffer from depression at some point in their lifetime. However, as well as using medication the symptoms of clinical depression will be diminished and often controlled using psychotherapy particularly using mindfulness techniques.
Causes of reactive depression
In most cases of depression the sufferer feels a victim to circumstance and subsequently feel helpless and unable to deal with or change their situation. Depression strikes us most easily when we experience that something or someone else is writing our life script. It might be that we experience loss, divorce, redundancy, or an accident. Perhaps we have a bullying manager or partner. The economy has collapsed and maybe we are about to lose the house. Maybe we have been diagnosed with an illness or perhaps our partner has. Whatever the issue the one sure thing is that we have lost control and with it self determination.
The magic of depression
This is where the eastern approach comes into its own. The person who is able to engage in therapy and, begins to understand and resolve the issues that are underpinning their symptoms, becomes very powerful indeed. Through the therapeutic process the person learns how to write their own life script, the life that they want, rather than being a bit part player in other peoples.
When people engage with their depression, rather than burying it with medication, it can become a truly life altering event. Human beings were designed with the creativity to solve problems, any problems.
Act in the present
The warning sign is when you are waking in the mornings not wanting to get out of bed and engage in the world. When this happens for too many days together, don’t delay, get into therapy as soon as you can. If you need some medication to hold you up while you do the therapeutic work that is fine, and is how the medication was designed to be used.
Most importantly learn to pick up the pen of life and write your own script. In your life story you should be the hero/heroine. All good stories have happy endings.
Take care, be happy and live in the present,