"Why don't you kill yourself". Incredibly, this was the first line offered to sufferers of depression by the worlds leading specialist. It must be the ultimate question for sufferers of depression and has understandably caused controversy ever since.
Most people who are depressed, and see a doctor or therapist have a measure of control over their condition. They may receive medication in the form of anti-depressants (commonly prescribed are the new form of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs, such as Prozac, Lustral and Paroxatine, which are increasingly effective for the growing amount of people who find themselves depressed), or maybe referred to a counsellor or psychotherapist. For this group of people this question is really worth thinking about; why exactly don't I kill myself?
There is a new and important break through for understanding why people change and has important implications for people suffering from depression. It always used to be believed that we changed by either an increased level of insight into our lives and problems, or through acquiring new skills that allowed us to act more effectively. Hence almost all therapy being dominated by either skills training (such as anger management, drink refusal skills, self esteem building etc...) or insight based approaches (such as core belief identification in CBT, psychoanalysis, etc...).
Recently there has been a quiet revolution amongst these ideas, namely something called Self Perception Theory, which states that "we learn what we believe as we hear ourselves talk". This idea, which has been gathering momentum over the last 20 years, states that our beliefs are not set in stone but are constantly shifting. Furthermore our beliefs are shifting as a direct result of the language that we use and the way we "talk" to ourselves.
This means that if I say "I can't do anything about my depression", I certainly will not be able to, not necessarily because I can't, but because I am learning that I can't as I hear myself speak.
It's not just about throwing out all the negative sounding stuff and replacing it with shiny new squeaky clean positive words that feel empty and unhelpful. It's about recognizing exactly what I am saying, understanding why I am saying it and re-phrasing my words so they stop negatively informing my beliefs.
This is a useful checklist for beginning to change your beliefs and beating mid life depression.
- Listen Carefully to the words you say, especially when talking to yourself or describing yourself to others.
- Identify and write down all the negative things that you say (put on one side whether they are right or not and concentrate simply on recording them).
- Challenge what you have written...is it true?
- Re-phrase your negative statements with statements that feel more accurate and less negative.
For example, you might replace " I can't help feeling depressed" with "although I feel depressed and can't do anything about it today, I need to remember that all feelings change in time and I can speed up that process by doing things that make me feel good". It certainly gets a lot more long winded but becomes a far less negative statement.
After having gone through this process you will find that your beliefs begin to shift. Different ways forward will open themselves up to you and life will be less negative and you will be able to move away from your mid life depression.