Situational depression arises when some aspect of your life is unworkable or dysfunctional; this emotion stops you for a vital reason, and there are many ways to support yourself when depression is present.
Depression has a vital message for you
When we looked at the gifts of sadness, I wrote about what I call the emotional attribution mistake that I see with many emotions — which is that people blame emotions for making them feel bad, rather than understanding that all emotions arise in response to very specific situations.
Emotions don’t cause the problems; they bring you the energy and skills you need to deal with the problems!
For instance, sadness arises in response to the fact that you’re holding on to something that doesn’t work anyway. Sadness doesn’t come to steal your stuff!
And sadness is different from grief, which arises when a death occurs, or when you experience an irretrievable loss. Grief doesn’t create those deaths or losses — it arises to help you mourn them.
All emotions exist to help you, each in its own way. Depression is no different.
SITUATIONAL DEPRESSION: Ingenious Stagnation
GIFTS: Inward Focus ~ Stillness ~ Purposeful Inactivity ~ Reality Check ~ The Ingenious Stop Sign of the Soul
WHAT YOUR DEPRESSION DOES: Situational depression arises when some aspect of your life is already unworkable or dysfunctional; depression stops you for a vital reason.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Stop, listen, and discover why your energy has been impeded; there are always serious situations that need your attention.
THE INTERNAL QUESTIONS: Where has my energy gone? Why was it sent away?
Important note: I’m referring to situational depression as a low mood that tracks to something you can affect with changes to your lifestyle or behavior, but there are many other forms of depression – many of which require therapeutic and/or medical intervention.
If your depression is cyclical, or if it doesn’t respond to healing changes you make, or if you’re feeling continually low, please see your doctor or visit the Helpguide.org depression page to understand more about your symptoms and your options.
Understanding Situational Depression
In The Language of Emotions, I focus on situational depression, which is the situation-related low mood most of us have experienced.
It’s not a serious condition, as the more intense forms of depression are, and it usually responds to all kinds of interventions (including placebo) if you catch it early; however, if it’s left untreated, situational depression can lead to more serious depressive conditions.
Depression seems to be continually in the news, but what I don’t see in this media flurry is people asking questions about why so many of us are depressed.
“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”
― Debi Hope on Twitter
Debi Hope is silly and arch, but she’s got a serious point: When we’re depressed, we often turn inward and blame ourselves, but depression is not simply a low mood that arises from within.
Sometimes, depression is a perfectly reasonable response to trouble in your life; depression is often an important signal about real issues that impede or disturb you.
In The Language of Emotions, I call depression Ingenious Stagnation:
Situational depression is an ingenious (though sometimes overwhelming) condition that takes you out of commission for crucial reasons…. Depression arises in response to exterior and interior conflicts that destabilize you, and while it can be disruptive, situational depression has a vital purpose.
Though depression can intensify to a place where it’s not manageable, there is often a point at which the depression arose in a manageable way as a response to trouble or injustice that was already occurring.
Treating the depression as a separate disease entity without addressing the very real situations it points to is an incomplete way to manage it – because depression is often a natural protective response to disheartening or destabilizing situations.
The practice for situational depression is not to launch yourself toward happiness for the sole (and ultimately joyless) sake of happiness, but to understand what has occurred – inside and outside of you – to disturb you.
Your first task is not to erase your depression, but to focus upon yourself with empathy so that you can view your depression not as a negative commentary about your value as a person, but as a vital message about the specific (though often hidden) issues you face.
Depression is, as every emotion is, a message about and a reaction to things that are going on inside or around you. It’s important to pay attention to that message and deal with whatever is going on.
Take care with depression
Current research is suggesting that untreated depressions, especially major depressions (see this Mayo Clinic description of major depression), can teach your brain how to fall into depression more easily the next time. Untreated depressions can wear a path in your brain, so it’s very important to address depression with whatever therapy best suits your particular situation.
It’s also important to note that cycling angers and rages often mask an underlying depressive condition (especially in men). If you flare up with rage and righteous indignation a great deal of the time, please check in with your doctor or Helpguide.org.
While anger can feel empowering when you’re depressed, too much anger can destabilize your health and ruin your relationships, so please get yourself checked out.
The fact is that we all feel depressed every now and then, and help is everywhere.
So, you’re depressed. What’s next?
We all experience depression for many reasons, yet in most cases, the cures that are offered to us focus primarily on us: on our behaviors, our chemistry, or our habits of thought.
But depression isn’t merely an internally-generated emotion; often, depression is a response to external trouble.
There are plenty of external situations that are in and of themselves depressing — such as conflicts, difficulties, injustice, illness, loss, and upheaval (or being surrounded by assholes). These things should evoke some depression.
In the face of troubles, something in us should stop moving blithely forward as if nothing is happening.
In my post Taking a Depression Inventory, you can walk through your life to find out why your energy is being sent away, and what your depression may be pointing to.
Related post: Taking a Depression Inventory