Depression is a condition or psychological state in which a person has persistently low mood, negative thoughts, and often disengages from activities or social contact. The word depression is used in a variety of different ways, both in society at large, and in the field of psychology, and there is no universal consensus about how to define depression.
However, most people agree that negative feelings, even strong ones, are not sufficient to qualify as depression. It is normal for people to experience a wide range of emotions throughout their life, including negative emotions, sometimes intense ones. Depression involves more than just feelings, but rather, cycles of thinking and action (or inaction), and even more persistent beliefs, which reinforce the negative state of mind.
Depression manifests in many different ways, including a person's thoughts, actions, behavior, and their physiology, including both their brain physiology and overall body physiology. Depression can also be seen to exist on a broader scale than just the individual, as there is evidence that depression can travel through social networks, and can be influenced by social structures, culture, and belief systems bigger than the individual.
We wish to design and continually refine our system of beliefs and practices so that they can help people to recover from depression, and make people and society as a whole resilient to depression and related psychological problems. This has been one of the goals and purposes of Why This Way since its start.
Depression and beliefs
Our beliefs which relate to depression
According to our beliefs, depression is something that exists outside of a healthy state. Depression often involves clouded thinking, in which a person has an irrationally negative self-image and/or irrationally negative view of the world around them. A key aspect of depression is also that people experiencing depression tend to respond to their negative feelings in ways that reinforce their depression. For example, a person may feel lonely, but may respond to their feelings by withdrawing or closing off from other people, fueling their loneliness.
More severe forms of depression often involve feelings of worthlessness, which relates to our belief that all people are valuable.
Depression's manifestation in beliefs
In addition to outward signals like a person's actions or behavior, physical symptoms, and mood symptoms, depression also manifests in certain patterns or trends within a person's belief system.
A person experiencing depression will tend to believe more negative things, especially about themselves, but the relationship between depression and beliefs go farther.
Certain beliefs or patterns of belief about life can contribute to depression, whereas others can help keep a person in a healthy state. For example, if a person believes that their self-worth is dependent on their material success or their performance in school, they can be more likely to become depressed if they encounter a series of failures or setbacks in school or career. On the other hand, if a person believes that they have a certain self-worth which does not depend on their career or academic performance, they may be more resilient in the face of setbacks in these areas.
One of the goals in Why This Way from the start has been to take what is known about depression, both academically, and from the personal experiences of the participants in the group, and use it to guide the construction and development of our belief system, so that our beliefs can make it easier for people and groups of people to stay in a healthy state.
Benefits of depression
It is possible for people to take something positive from negative experiences, including periods of depression. Experiences with depression can provide a number of benefits for people, including:
- Improving people's ability to empathize with, understand, and help people who are experiencing depression
- Leading people to make positive changes in their life, improving their situation or their ways of coping with unpleasant emotions or responding to problems
- Helping people to understand how to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy states in themselves and others
A depressed mental state often involves focusing exclusively on negative aspects of a situation. Focusing on positive aspects of the period of depression itself, and telling an empowering narrative of the depression, in which a person focuses on the things they've gained from having the experience of being depressed, can be part of getting out of the depression and back into a healthier state of being.