What is the most effective way to deal with depression? Beliefs about the causes of depression influence answers to that question and minimize our ability to look beyond them for alternative solutions.
If you believe that depression is caused by chemical imbalances in brain chemistry, then medication seems the obvious solution, possibly accompanied by dietary and lifestyle choices including increased physical exercise. If you believe that depression is the outcome of unresolved psychological and emotional trauma, then re-visiting those memories and experiences and seeking closure and resolution becomes the way forward. However, what if a general cause of depression was not so easily identified? What if it couldn't be easily attributed to one particular cause, rather it was an unconscious response to denied philosophical and existential yearnings?
What is meant by Philosophical and Existential Yearnings? Existentialism is a philosophical approach to understanding what it means 'To Be'. This might sound a little abstract but have you ever considered what this mystery called Life is all about and what you think it means for you 'To Exist' or to 'Be Alive'? Existential philosophers say that human beings are subject to the same ontological conditions of living (or Givens of Existence in Existential parlance). Human beings are born and die; we all face the uncertain and unpredictable nature of being and meanings attached to life's experiences; we are ultimately alone in that we occupy a unique place in the world and no one can experience what we experience; we experience existential anxiety ie. when we are reminded that there is no objective rightness to our life's choices, rather an anxiety of not knowing the outcomes of other choices.
From an existential perspective, our Existence and Being-ness is co-created through our experiences in the world i.e. the physical, social, individual and spiritual realms. Thus, exploring depression against the backcloth of an existence that for each of us is totally our responsibility, has a completely different flavour. Instead of focusing on reducing symptoms of depression in the belief that all will return to normal, the opposite is true from an existential perspective. Namely, depression offers an opportunity to explore the true nature of our existence and to not be depressed or anxious might be seen as conforming to society in ways that deny responsibility for creating our own path.
You might ask 'Why would someone embrace depression if the experience of it is so painful and debilitating? Surely to feel so bad must indicate that all is not well, when before, life was ok?' I am not advocating that we all become depressed in order to explore our purpose in the world. However, I am suggesting from an existential perspective, that exploring your part in creating your life is a worthwhile journey and one which has the potential to move you from the debilitating effects of depression to living with a natural level of anxiety that comes from questioning how you live. When you truly choose how you want to be in the world, what you believe, how you act despite the 'shoulds, oughts, and musts' society dictates, you will most likely experience anxiety. This stems from the lack of objective rightness for our choices to be when faced with a collective conformity to what we should be. However, to conform also holds its anxiety; the potential for existential crisis that you are not truly choosing for yourself, rather conforming to a collective, anaesthetises you taking full responsibility of what you are here on earth for. And what you are here on earth for is something you will create rather than discover since there is no objective rightness for what that is.
So in dealing with depression, our beliefs dictate the best ways we believe it will be overcome. Three broad categories exist:
Medical perspective based on the belief that chemical imbalances occur pre, during or post the onset of depression.
Psychotherapeutic perspective highlighting the necessity of coming to terms with unresolved thoughts, feelings and experiences.
Existential Philosophical perspective which sees physical and emotional manifestations of depression being fuelled by existential yearnings related to the phenomenal aspect of our existence.
It is my experience as a psychologist and existential psychotherapist, that individuals who are courageous enough to explore the existential underpinnings of their depressive symptoms, are those who go on to create new lives of meaning and purpose. Of course, through this process they make changes to their physical experience in the world and also come to know themselves through exploration of their unresolved issues, that, to date, were hidden and unaddressed.
We are existential beings with the potential to create ourselves in whatever way we choose. Do not choose a life de-pressed by attempting to conformity to society's expectations without due consideration; instead, embrace fully an exploration of how rewarding life can truly be.