Even though people are taking more antidepressants than ever, depression is still increasing. It’s paradoxical to think that the estimated 264 million people in the world living with depression are actually together in feeling alone and hopeless((Do Something: 11 Facts About Depression)).
What the pharmaceutical companies seem to make consumers think is that antidepressants cure a chemical imbalance in their brains. But if that were true, why aren’t we seeing depression disappear? That’s not to say antidepressants don’t reduce the impact of symptoms and act as a bridge to effectively address the underlying problems, but relying on them to “cure” depression is not the answer.
We know this.
So how to cure depression?
Johann Hari, a journalist and author challenging what we know about mental health, poses that depression and anxiety arise because our basic needs aren’t being met. He challenges the chemical imbalance argument and argues that masking the symptoms is not the way to cure it.
Overcoming depression starts by understanding that it’s not just a diagnosis but a signal that something bigger needs attention, that something is missing or off-balance. And just as we would do for a car or a computer, we need to look inside to find out what’s causing that flashing red light.
What Causes Depression?
Before we dive in, it’s crucial that you know these three things first if you’re suffering from depression:
- You’re not broken.
- You can overcome it.
- It’s probably a natural reaction to the environment you’re in and/or to the events that you’ve been through in your life.
It could be that you’re in an environment that is lacking basic needs such as connection, meaning, and passion, or that you’re holding irrational negative beliefs about yourself based on childhood or traumatic experiences, but one thing is for sure: whatever you’re feeling is real((The Permanente Journal: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions)).
Whilst this article is not an exhaustive attempt to address all possible causes, we’ll talk about some of the most common causes of depression, namely the lack of meaningful connections and the negative beliefs that we hold from our past.
A Lack of Meaningful Connections
One of the most basic human needs is the primal need to feel connected, to be a part of something.
Our ancestral hunter-gatherers needed to be connected as part of a tribe in order to survive. Being rejected meant being exposed to the predators looking for weaklings, people who were alone and vulnerable.
Yes, times have changed, and we’re no longer expecting to be eaten alive in the middle of a city, but we still have that same need for a tribe, to have connection. The great irony is that we’re more able now to “connect” to humans all over the world, but we’re also lonelier than ever. We’re not getting as many real, meaningful connections.
The predators we face now are inside our own heads when we’re sitting alone in our flat feeling hopeless, sad, or (worst of all) feeling nothing. The predator is the belief that death is a way out, a way to ease the nothingness.
This is just one cause, but it’s a big one.
This isn’t about just talking to or being in the presence of others. You can feel alone in a crowd, and you can feel alone in a marriage. It’s not the physical aspect but the other bit that we get when we form a tribe: the meaning and satisfaction we feel when we share things with others. When we contribute some part of ourselves and improve some part of someone’s something, that’s when we feel a real connection.
In the working environments we’ve created for ourselves, people are working long hours with little to no connection or fulfillment. Our ancestors never had to deal with this type of environment, and it’s something which we need to be acutely aware of so that we can recognize and respond to the signals when we see them.
Professor Caccioppo, previously a psychologist at the University of Chicago and an expert in loneliness stated that:
“The purpose of loneliness is like the purpose of hunger. Hunger takes care of your physical body. Loneliness takes care of your social body, which you also need to survive and prosper. We’re a social species.”((The Atlantic: How Loneliness Begets Loneliness))
We need these feelings to tell us something is off-balance. Feeling lonely and disconnected means you’re not getting enough of the human connection you need, so you need to change your approach. But if you don’t know that these feelings are signals, and you don’t take the right approach, it’s easy to just give up and say “I’ll never be able to solve this, I’m useless.”
Your subconscious mind believes the things you tell it, and if you’re telling it just how worthless you are, how useless and how unlovable you are, then there’s no wonder you’re feeling worthless, useless, and unlovable. This is another cause of depression: the scripts we tell ourselves.
Your Childhood Scripts
“I’ve always lived with depression, it’s just the way I am.”
Believing that you’re stuck or that you were born with depression is a major block stopping you from overcoming depression. If you’re replaying the same negative scripts over and over, scripts you’ve written for yourself and scripts that others have written for you, then it’s not surprising that your head isn’t an easy place in which to live.
Not feeling like you’re enough. Not feeling like you deserve to be happy. Feeling like you’re a lost cause.
All of these types of beliefs are things learned over the course of a life, most likely when you were young. Your logical mind didn’t develop until your early teens, so when someone told you that you weren’t good enough or made you feel alone, different or weird, then your emotional brain took that to be the truth about you. But sometimes as adults, we need to revisit the stuff we let in when we were kids because it’s almost always irrational and illogical.
It’s absolutely not your fault that you have them, but it is your responsibility to find and remove them.
A client of mine believed that he couldn’t change because it was the way he’d always been. When we overcame that belief, the next one was that he didn’t believe that what he did was ever good enough. He tried to fit into a career that he thought he needed to, and when he couldn’t face it anymore, he told himself he just wasn’t good enough.
He didn’t contemplate that he was just trying to be someone that he wasn’t and that there were things at which he was amazingly talented. But the shift happened when he started seeing that depression was just a sign for him to keep searching to find his passions, not to settle for a career he hated and to make peace with the relationship he had with his father.
This is something all of us need to work on, and often it’s easier with a therapist who specializes in the subconscious mind (as that’s where it’s all stored), but ultimately you can do this on your own with some real introspection.
How to Cure Depression
By now you’re no doubt aware that there’s no miracle “cure” to depression, but hopefully you can see that depression is a very real and often understandable response to things you’ve been through or things (or lack of) in your environment.
It’s not a matter of just “getting support” or “finding more friends”; that won’t solve it, and it’s not really what you need. Here are some things that will help:
1. Change Your Scripts
Overcoming depression starts by understanding how your brain works and how other people’s brains work. When you know that your pain has a purpose, that it’s a method of self-preservation, then you can start being aware of what it’s causing you to do and think. When you are aware, you can then change it and rewire it.
For more ways to shift your mindset and rewire your scripts, check out some tips here.
2. Build Meaning and Connection
Building meaningful connections with others will be easier by working on your emotional intelligence and communication skills. Understanding how to read people’s facial expressions, voice, and body language, and focusing on what that person is saying and feeling will help you develop these.
You’ll be able to get control over your self-preservation instincts causing you to feel threatened, and you can see people in a different light. When others feel heard, they’re going to want to hear from you. And if you actually open up, you might find that they feel the same or that you can show them a new perspective.
3. Do Selfless Acts
It has also been shown that we find meaning when doing something for others, doing something where you show human kindness and make a difference to someone. Start by passing on something helpful, or being there for someone, even if it feels really hard.
When you step up and show someone you care, or when you open up about your struggles and be vulnerable, someone who needs it (be it in your office, at a homeless shelter, or just a friend) you’ll be amazed at how good it feels. It’s small, incremental changes here that really help.
Depression is really signalling you to stop and take stock of what’s happening around you or what you’ve left unresolved from your past. Just know that you can work on it, that you can find out what ignites your fire and passion, and what makes you feel like you. Above all else, know that it’s all figureoutable and that you’re going to be fine.