Depression and the Journey to Feeling Better

March 12, 2018

Depression is one of the most common reasons that people seek help. Feelings of sadness, a lack of motivation, a decrease in enjoyment of pleasureable activities, a sense of hopelessness, changes in appetite and sleep-most of us can say that we have experienced some of those symptoms at some point in our lives. Sometimes life events can trigger a bout of sadness or depression, and for others it may be a progressive worsening that doesn’t have a clear cut starting point. Often these symptoms get better on their own, with time and as certain stressors are addressed. Sometimes, though, these symptoms linger and worsen, and that is when folks finally reach out to us at the Institute for Family Services (IFS) to get help.

For each of us, that point when we know we finally have to seek help comes at different times. It is not uncommon for men to think they can get through challenging times independently, since men in our society get so many messages about what is expected of a “real man,” and going for counseling doesn’t fit into that “man box”.  For single moms, it may be an issue of finding or prioritizing time for taking care of yourself.  For many, it is a generational legacy that “life is hard and you suffer through it.”  Others usually see that things are getting to the breaking point before the person who is approaching that point.

Think about watching your favorite horror movie.  As we watch helpless from the seat of a movie theatre or the comfort of our couch, we may yell at the television. “Don’t go in there alone, or call for help!” as we watch our protagonist walk right into their own demise. We can see the signs of danger and hear the ominous soundtrack.

This is life as normal for many. We may see the symptoms of danger when it’s happening to somebody else, but like a horror film lead, we often don’t notice that we are in trouble until we’re caught in the trap ourselves. Just as we can watch the protagonist in our favorite horror movie venture into the basement and scream about how obviously in danger they are, we may be oblivious when we are the ones being lead into the darkness.

While the bogeyman isn’t real, there are real “shadows” that can hang over our lives and cause hopelessness, stress, anger, loss, and pain. We may be tempted to excuse them and deny their existence. “I must just be exhausted” or, “I’m just stressed out.” “I just don’t feel like talking to anyone today” or, “I’m only sad because it’s raining and I thought it was going to be a sunny day.” These feelings are all valid, and they may be true in certain instances. But for those who experience these feelings regularly, there might be a deeper root.

Depression is one of the most common complaints of Americans and according to a recent article in New York Times by Aaron Carroll (Do Anti-Depressants Work? March 12, 2018).

The  United States has the highest percentage of their population on anti-depressants than any other country in the world. Is this because we are the most depressed nation in the world or is it good marketing strategies by the pharmaceutical industry.

The research around the effectiveness of anti-depressants is weak and yet often Americans turn first to psychiatry, wanting a quick fix, a magic pill.  A review of the literature shows clearly that medication alone is not very effective in treating depression, and yet living in this world that glorifies western modern medicine we find that people have a hard time considering alternatives to addressing depression.

Consider this…depression has been historically documented by philosophers, writers and healers throughout the ages.  Indigenous healing practices included dream work, healing circles, sweat lodges, dietary changes.  Western medicine does not produce improved outcomes for people, but it has created a system from which many people and organizations benefit economically.  At IFS, most clients who are on anti-depressants when they start with us are able to discontinue those medications within 3 months of therapy.  And others never have to resort to medication -less than 2% of our client population are prescribed any psychiatric medications.  So, what does work better than medications?

Having an understanding of how depression affects you can be key to coping with the symptoms you experience. If we reflect back to horror films, how is it that our protagonists defeat their foes? They learn about their enemy. They watch and listen to learn how their enemy moves and what triggers its manifestation.  Similarly, there are ways that we can “learn” how our  operating system for depression.

We attend to life stressors to better understand what triggers our symptoms of depression. We use tools at IFS in our healing circles to help people understand their full identity and the systems in which they operate—family, community, school, work—and how those systems nurture or suppress their expression of themselves. As people begin to recognize these systems of support and struggle that they navigate every day, they connect with others who are also committed to living a conscious and intentional life that has purpose and value.

We do know that ALL the research points to the importance of connections in healing depression. The power of these connections cannot be underestimated when examining the ways in which we can minimize the effects of depression.

Let’s return one last time to our analogy. True protagonistic triumph that often comes at the end of a horror film is rarely enjoyed by one participant. In fact, if you look at many great classics (think It, or any one of the movies in the Freddy Krueger, Jason, Michael Myers, or Scream series), there is something that their plotlines have in common: the protagonist bands together with others to defeat their enemy.

Is this just a fuzzy way to tie up the end of the film?

We don’t think so. We think that there is a deeper implication:

Going SOLO has huge marketing capital with unintended consequences.

True victory in shadowing the darkness comes in warm bubbles through building reliable networks of support. Some things are too great to tackle alone, and we don’t have to feel any shame in recognizing this.  The same for life—there is joy to celebrating our wins and relief in sharing the burden of our grief.

The connections you can make at IFS are life changing.  Relieve. Redefine. Celebrate. Values that bring people together in a community of hope and purpose.

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