How to Heal Depression

Part One:
Understanding Depression

Fourteen: How Did Annie Hall Get Her Name?

The original title for Woody Allen's film Annie Hall was Anne Hedonia.

"Sometimes [depression] is mere passive joylessness and dreariness, discouragement, dejection, lack of taste and zest and spring," wrote the father of American psychology, William James, in 1902. "Professor Ribot has proposed the name anhedonia to designate this condition."

Anhedonia was derived from the Greek: an , meaning not, and hedone, meaning pleasure--the inability to experience pleasure.

If it's been a while since you've genuinely enjoyed your life (or can't relate much to the terms enjoyment, pleasure, or fun), that may indicate depression.

There's an old joke: Two elderly women are at a Catskill Mountain resort and one of them says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know, and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life.

Woody Allen
opening lines to Annie Hall

Fifteen: Other Types of Depression

In addition to the Big Three we discussed on page 20--major depression, chronic low-grade depression (dysthymia), and manic-depression--there are some other types of depression:

A psychiatrist or physician well versed in diagnosing depression will know the symptoms to look for in determining which depression you may have.

(Please don't use this brief list to try to categorize or diagnose yourself or others. It is presented here simply to give an idea of the range and varieties depressive illness can take.)

How heavy the days are. There is not a fire that can warm me, not a sun to laugh with me. Everything base. Everything cold and merciless. And even the beloved dear stars look desolately down.


Sixteen: Delay Major Decisions--Depression Alters Perception

It's important to remember that when depressed, we are not perceiving the world, or ourselves, accurately. Therefore, evaluations, judgments, and decisions may be inaccurate.

If you think you may be depressed, the only major decision to make is to get a diagnosis and, if diagnosed as depressed, to get treatment. Other major decisions can wait until the depression begins to heal.

Only in quiet waters things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.


Seventeen: The Question of Suicide

It is very common for depressed people to have thoughts and feelings of suicide. Such thoughts and feelings are, in fact, a symptom of depression.

For obvious reasons, however, it is important not to act upon suicidal thoughts or feelings.

Sadly, fifteen percent of all depressed people will commit suicide as a result of their depression. Two-thirds of all suicides are directly related to depression.

If you feel you even may act upon suicidal thoughts or feelings, call a crisis prevention line, your family doctor, a good friend, or any healthcare professional at once. Go to an emergency room, or call 911 and say, "I'm feeling suicidal. Please help."

As your depression heals, life improves; you will no longer feel like committing suicide.

Yes, life will still have its ups and downs, and you will feel your fair share of sadness, anger, grief, fear, and all the other "down" emotions. As depression heals, however, suicide will seldom seem the only solution.

The question of suicide? Keep it a question. It's not really an answer.

Despair, owing to some evil trick played upon the sick brain by the inhabiting psyche, comes to resemble the diabolical discomfort of being imprisoned in a fiercely overheated room. And because no breeze stirs this cauldron, because there is no escape from this smothering confinement, it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion.


Eighteen: The Power of Positive Thinking Crashes and Burns in the Face of epression

As powerful as the power of positive thoughts are, depression biologically interferes with the brain's ability to maintain a positive thought for any period of time. Like the farmer who casts his seed upon the rocks, all the positive thoughts in the world presented to the depressed mind will not bear fruit.

"There are joys which long to be ours," wrote Henry Ward Beecher. "God sends ten thousand truths, which come about us like birds seeking inlet; but we are shut up to them, and so they bring us nothing, but sit and sing awhile upon the roof, and then fly away."

Depression shuts us up.

Overly positive, horrendously cheerful people can make a depressed person even more depressed. In fact, perhaps the least helpful thing one can say to a depressed person is, "Cheer up!"

When thinking is distorted, as it is during depression, medical treatment is needed to till the soil so that positive thoughts can take root.

Every day, in every way, things are getting worse and worse.


Nineteen: God and Depression

Here we use the word God in the broadest possible sense. Please fill in your personal belief when we use the word God.

There are many misconceptions concerning God and depression. These include:

In fact (or at least it seems a fact to us), God and God's benevolence come in many forms and manifest in many ways. Among these we must include modern science and the entire healing profession. (God moves in mysterious ways; psychiatrists are just one of them.)

It is hard to find the believer who will not take penicillin for pneumonia, insulin for diabetes, or have a broken bone properly set.

The overwhelming majority of people who are successfully treated for depression find that their faith, spiritual connection, and perception of divine goodness increase.

Modern treatment of depression is a gift of God.

When I said, "My foot is slipping," your love, O Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.

PSALMS 94:18-19

Twenty: What Causes Depression?

Depression manifests as an imbalance in the biochemistry of the brain. This results in what some call "faulty thinking." This combination of biological imbalance and psychological distortion causes the havoc known as depression.

A depression can be triggered--that is, set off--by any number of factors: genetic predisposition, major loss, a painful childhood, unresolved grief, stress, serious illness, economic difficulties, bad relationships, and so much more. These are, however, merely what sets off the depression.

The state of "being depressed" (having a depressive illness) takes place in the brain: a biochemical imbalance in the brain and a psychological imbalance in thinking.

Let's explore each in greater detail.

Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have isn't permanent.


Twenty-one: The Messengers of the Brain

The human brain is the most intricate, complex, and exquisite communication center on earth. Ten billion brain cells transmit billions of messages each second. And, as Alan Watts pointed out, "It does all this without our even thinking about it."

The biochemical messengers of this communication are known as neurotransmitters. (Neuro refers to the brain cells and transmitter , to sending and receiving information.)

When neurotransmitters are at appropriate levels, the brain functions harmoniously. We tend to feel good. We have hope, purpose, and direction. Although we certainly experience the ups and downs of life, the overall mood is one of well-being, confidence, and security.

Although there are dozens of different neurotransmitters, research indicates that a deficiency in some of the neurotransmittersserotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine may be one cause of depression. On the other hand, excess amounts of neurotransmitters may be a cause of the manic phase of manic-depression.

Restoring these neurotransmitters to natural levels by way of antidepressant medication brings the brain back into harmonious functioning and a return to well-being.

The future may teach us how to exercise a direct influence by means of particular chemical substances, upon the amount of energy and their distribution in the apparatus of the mind. It may be that there are other undreamed of possibilities of therapy.


Twenty-two: The Mind and Its Negative Thoughts

Negative thoughts can play an important role in depression. Such thoughts can become a bad habit. For some, they become an addiction.

Some common negative thoughts include

These can lead to habitual, often addictive behavior, such as

And many more.

Habitual patterns of negative thoughts and self-destructive behavior can cause, continue, or worsen a depression.

It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.


Twenty-three: Which Came First?

So, depression manifests itself as a biochemical imbalance in the brain and as negative thoughts in the mind. But where does depression begin? Which manifestation is the "first cause" of depression?

The answer: it doesn't really matter.

A deficiency of neurotransmitters can contribute to negative thoughts and behaviors. And, negative thoughts and behaviors can contribute to a reduction in neurotransmitters. Whichever started the depression, it becomes a downward spiral, one feeding the other into a deepening gloom.

Which came first, then, is not important. What to do about depression is. Antidepressant medication helps restore the proper balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Certain short-term therapies (most particularly Cognitive and Interpersonal therapies) teach new habits of thought and action. The medical (brain) and psychotherapeutic (mind) approaches have, individually, been successful in treating depression.

Some prefer to approach healing from one angle; others prefer to approach it from the other. Gluttons for happiness that we are, we suggest you consider both.

Combining therapies appears to be the most successful treatment of all.

Every excess causes a defect; every defect an excess.


Twenty-four: Depression Can Be Hereditary and "Contagious"

Like many illnesses, depression runs in the family. Heart disease, hypertension, and depression are among the illnesses that are common to certain family trees.

Living with someone who is chronically depressed can be depressing. When a relative or loved one has recurrent episodes of depression, there is a profound disruption of family life. Family members experience pain, exhaustion, and are more prone to depression.

"Misery no longer loves company," Russell Baker observed. "Nowadays it insists upon it."

I was once thrown out of a mental hospital for depressing the other patients.


Twenty-five: Depression Related to Age

Depressions can take place at any age. Infants can have depression, as can people well into their second century on earth.

About six million American children under twelve have a clinical depression, much of it unrecognized and untreated. Sometimes behavior diagnosed as an Attention Deficit Disorder (children who are easily distracted, hyperactive, and have difficulty paying attention) is, in fact, depression.

One in twenty adolescents suffers from depression. Hormonal changes, emerging identity crises, peer pressure, sexual issues, and the increased responsibility of approaching adulthood can contribute to depression. Tragically, the suicide rate among teenagers has almost tripled in one generation.

The generation from eighteen to thirty sometimes called Generation-X realizes it may be the first generation in the history of the United States to be less affluent than the generation before. Many who make up Generation-X are also keenly aware of the condition of the country and planet being passed on to them. Understandably, many are not happy about it. For some individuals, this unhappiness deepens into a depression.

The ubiquitous baby boomers--some in their forties, some in their fifties, and most in denial--find that they have become their parents. All the problems, crises, and attitudes they so despised in their parents have come home to roost. In addition, the post-war generation is discovering that, like Peter Pan exiled from Never-Never Land, youth is not eternal. And then there's that icky thing called death. All of this leads to what has been dubbed the Baby Boomer Blues.

People over sixty-five are four times more likely to experience depression than the general population. Tragically, many elderly people are believed to have early stages of senility or Alzheimer's disease when, in fact, they have a treatable depression.

Too often, the symptoms of depression from physical aches and pains to poor memory--are written off as "just growing old." While certain physical and mental problems may arise due to aging, they may also be symptoms of depression that should be carefully evaluated by a physician.

Above all, it is never normal to feel unhappy day after day, simply because you're growing older.

The National Institutes for Health have free pamphlets for depression written for various age groups. Please call 1-800-421-4211 for your copy.

Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old only by deserting their ideals. Years wrinkle the face, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, doubt, self-interest, fear, despair-- these are the long, long years that bow the head and turn the growing spirit back to dust.


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Copyright © 1994-1996 Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D. & Peter McWilliams