What to Do If You Are Depressed: A Guided Tour

A blog series guiding folks who are depressed

Posted Aug 23, 2019

Depression affects virtually everyone in modern society, either directly or through contact with a loved one who is impacted. As such, it is crucial that we develop accessible resources that inform people about the nature of depression.

This is what drove me to develop a 15-part blog series on "What to Do If You Are Depressed." My hope is to provide a clear guide to what depression is and how it develops and maintained and the kind of actions folks can take to adaptively deal with “the beast.” The blog series has been generally well-received, and a number of folks have written to say it has been helpful. To assist in sharing the series, I have developed this final summary to include all the links with brief summaries of the entries so that folks can have easy access and/or share with others via a single link. 

The central take-home message of this blog series is that depression is a state of behavioral shutdown that stems from psychological injuries and low resources, maladaptive coping, and physiological processes, which combine to create vicious cycles that drive people into depressive caves. The nightmare paradox of depression is that it orients the person to do less and less, but doing less and less generally makes the person feel worse and worse. We must both empathize with these feelings and the reality associated with them, and also be oriented toward finding the strength and courage to act to reverse those cycles via a process of fostering adaptive growth based on the processes of awareness, acceptance, and active change. 

I should note that this blog series adopts an individual, personal, and pragmatic approach to depression. To address depression at the level of global health, I believe we will need major community and social movements to cultivate "collective joy." Our focus has been on the individual level because that is the nature of self-help; however, we should all be aware depression is in many ways a social and community issue. 

The first half of the blog tour provides an overview of the problem and consists of the following entries to help folks map the terrain:

I. What to Do When You Are Depressed introduces the series and focuses on defining what depression is and why we will be emphasizing the themes of awareness and compassion.

2. Facing the Beast introduces the concept of acceptance, and adopts the metaphor of facing the beast that is depression instead of trying to escape from it or bury it. 

3. Being Aware of the Paradoxes explains the paradox of shutdown and the paradox of effort to help readers be very clear why depression so often involves vicious cycles that shuts them down.

4. Know Your Level provides information about technical terms and links to screening tools to assess one's level of depression and trait neuroticism

5. Know the Three Kinds explores the ways to think about depression as (1) reactions to major losses and injuries; (2) maladaptive cycles and (3) biophysiological malfunctions. 

6. Identify Neurotic Loops explains how many folks have negative reactions to negative feelings, and why this creates an inner struggle that drives emotional shutdown.

7. Assess Your Well-being emphasizes how psychological well-being is, in many ways, the flip side of depression and should be considered. A quick summary of the domains well-being is offered and a well-being screen is shared. 

The second half of the blog series shifts from awareness and acceptance to active change strategies to guide the reversal of cycles of shutdown and shine the light on domains that might result in healthier ways of being. 

8. Values Clarification introduces the concept of "stages of change" and shares ways of getting clear about one's basic values in life to orient toward the desired future. 

9. Behavioral Activation summarizes the most foundational concept in the active treatment of depression, which is directly combatting shutdown with systematically increasing pleasure and goal-directed activity. 

10. Healthy Lifestyles extends the behavioral activation concept into cultivating "anti-depressant" lifestyles and recommends The Depression Cure as a guide. 

11. Taking Care of Your Biology explains how to think about the relationship between the biological, mental, and personal domains of living and why taking care of the body is so important.

12. Relating to Your Emotions introduces the concept of the "Emotional Sweet Spot" and explains how to be "aware and attuned" to your feelings on the one hand and "adaptively regulate" them on the other. 

13. Relationships explain why the need to feel known and valued is so central to the human experience, and offers resources on how to overcome relational injuries and foster ways to be more friendly and competent in relational encounters.

14. Adaptive thinking explains how negative thinking can feed into negative moods, and offers readers strategies for how to catch, check and change maladaptive thoughts to more adaptive ones. 

15. Identity and Shadow Work emphasizes the need to develop a deep philosophy of life and to explore one's identity, including one's shadow side and ways of defending against unwanted images, emotions, and impulses. It ends with an integrative approach to psychological mindfulness

The goal of the series is to give you a mental map that you can use to chart the territory and figure out ways to guide your life out of the "neighborhood" that is depression. Below is a figure to help you visualize the different domains of focus. The left side with the arrows represents the person's development across the biological, mental, and social planes of existence. The circle in the middle represents the person and the five domains of human adaptation are listed as follows: 1) Habits and Lifestyle; 2) Emotions and Emotional Functioning; 3) Relationships and Interpersonal Styles; 4) Defenses and Coping; and 5) Identity and Worldview. 

Gregg Henriques
Source: Gregg Henriques

Let me conclude by saying that I know how hard depression can be, and that I realize there is no straight and easy line to recovery. However, with the right attitude and the development of skills that enable the building up your awareness, capacities for acceptance, and devoting yourself toward active, adaptive change, supported by a commitment to developing a CALM MO attitude, it is possible that you can recover and maintain a life that is psychologically nourishing and more optimally fulfilling.

Please forward this link to anyone who you think might benefit, including friends, family members or social networking groups. If you have suggestions or recommendations, please feel free to contact me at henriqgx@jmu.edu.

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