“Irene”, a 59-year-old widowed grandmother, came to see me because her daughter insisted. Irene had become a hermit, rarely venturing outside her home. She had dropped all her church activities and refused to speak with family members (other than “Debbie”, the daughter). Most of Irene's time was spent sleeping. Instead of walking her dog, Irene let it run around the back yard.
Even though her eating habits had severely changed, it was clear that this formerly social, active woman was depressed. She told me that the anti-depressants prescribed by her family doctor only served to make her feel more of a failure. After 3 months the pills had not elevated her mood. She felt helpless, hopeless, apathetic and scared.
Debbie, a nurse, had become increasingly worried about her mother who at times seemed like a stranger to her. Debbie lives 3 hours away from her mother. She persuaded Irene to seek help in addition to the medical care. The doctors had told Irene that she would likely be depressed for a long time – perhaps indefinitely.
I told her “Diagnosis is not destiny”.
Then I made a few suggestions based on Michael Yapko's work: the solution to depression is to change patterns. With this in mind I asked Irene if she would be willing to, once a day, open her front door and step outside for at least five minutes.
Other “assignments” I suggested were:
- for Irene to do a spot of gardening such as turning the soil in her vegetable patch which she had neglected during her depression apathy. No more than 10 minutes a day without she felt like doing more in the garden.
- 2 minutes a day to sort through old clothes. This had been a volunteer activity for Irene's church before depression struck.
- Once a week to take the dog for a walk, gradually increasing the distance as she felt capable.
- To phone Debbie with a progress report each day.
- To make a list of friends and family to what she “owed” a phone call.
Although a person can not “snap out” of depression, taking actions, albeit small ones, fires up the process of escaping from the tentacles of apathy and hopelessness engendered by depression.
I also encouraged Irene to discuss the anti-depressant medication the doctors had prescribed, including asking them for the list of possible side-effects. This list is required by law whenever a doctor or pharmacy hands over pills to a patient. Rarely is this done. And even rarer does a doctor take a patient's concerns seriously. Irene, for instance, got no response from her family doctor when she asked if her insomnia was worsened by the sleeping pill he'd prescribed.
Since Debbie was present throughout the session I enlisted her aid in helping her mother re-invigorate her life. Even though Debbie is a medically-trained person she understands the limits of medicine and the usual combination of neglect and ignorance among doctors of the social, nutritional and psychological factors that affect human health.
So she read agreed to visit her mother frequently and to bring gifts such as a colorful scarf, fresh lipstick, and treats for the dog.
There was no formal hypnosis. But I did explain EFT [Emotional Freedom Techniques] and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to Irene.
Progress was rapid once Irene allowed herself to think outside of the doom-and-gloom prognoses of the doctors. Just stepping outside her cottage – and thus defying their predictions – began the process of diminishing the depression.
Soon Irene began calling people she'd neglected. To her amazement, they were happy to hear from her. Similarly with the church clothing group – they welcomed her back with enthusiastic hugs. Within 3 weeks Irene was once again an active, lively person according to Debbie.
What is depression?
There are two major types of depression: Reactive and Organic.
Reactive depression arises from an incident or a specific loss. For example, your home being burned down or your spouse dying. Reactive depression is self-limiting. That is, with or without treatment, it will end. Sometimes within weeks, sometimes months, sometimes a year or more. Post-partum depression is an example of this time-limited, self-ending type of depression.
Organic depression arises from within. It can not be attributed to a specific trauma or loss. The customary treatment is medication because the assumption is that the depressed person has a 'chemical imbalance'. Little attention is paid to possible causes of that imbalance – only to overcome the imbalance with other chemicals.
One possible cause is being abused as a child, including being bullied. This can lay the foundation for an eruption of loss and despair in adult life, particularly if you were upset by your mother.
However, psychotherapy and hypnosis do help people escape depression – with or without accompanying medicine. Indeed, according to recent issues of Skeptical Inquirer and Psychology Today magazines, half of the depressed patients prescribed anti-depressants are not helped at all by the drugs.
Individuals vary in what they suffer under the rubric 'depression'. So it follows logically that treatment should be personal, tailor to the individual.
Depression is often characterized by:
- increased appetite OR no appetite
- excessive sleep OR insufficient sleep
- feasibility (especially re-imagined)
- poor hygiene
- anger OR passivity
- loneliness – yet avoidance of other people
- crying OR inability to let tears flow
- feeling unlovable
There are similarities with depression to the characteristics and treatment of anxiety.
Often overlooked when dealing with anxiety or depression is nutrition. Individuals vary in their reactions to specific foods and liquids. Although most people become more depressed when they consume alcohol or take drugs, some do not. And some people thrive by eating turkey (for example) while others feel awful an hour or so after eating it.
The only way to know which foods enliven you and which (pardon the pun) feed into creating or deepening depression is to experiment. Make notes on your reactions to specific foods.
Exercise is touted as a cure-all for depression. It supposedly “gets the blood flowing” and thus helps the depressed person feel physically better. Actually, taking any action, some action is the key to resolving depression.
That action may be physical or it may be mental, or it may be both. It will be successful as long as it involves changing the depressed person's patterns.
Labels have a horrible habit of sticking to a person. Once labeled as “depressed” a sufferer will likely have trouble shucking off the label because friends, relatives and co-workers continue to associate the label with the person – long after the depression has lived.
So, someone labeled as “bi-polar” will be expected to experience depression at the lower end of their emotional roller-coaster. And this despite the possibility that it may not even exist. [ Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 37, issue 5, p.38]. The psychiatrist's bible [DSM – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual] purports to classify the myriad of mental “diseases” humans are liable to suffer. In reality this compendium of opinion and speculation – in which the existence and symptoms of diseases are voted upon – satisfies the need of the mind-doctors for their pretence at making their profession seem as scientific and evidence-based as real medicine.
None of the hundreds of “diseases” in the DSM has a biological basis. The current edition of DSM (DSM-5) has been condemned as lacking validity by the director of the National Institute of Mental Health.
Isolation is a frequent consequence of being depressed. And human contact a frequent solution. Ironically, the very action that would help a depressed person, ie, working with a competent professional, is one of the most difficult for the sufferer to accomplish. It would take so much effort and courage to get out and to confide in a therapist.
But if the sufferer can manage some human contact then, like Irene, the depression can be contained and vanquished.
Seasonal depression (which occurs at the sunset of winter or at times of holidays) can be countered by allowing artificial light or sun sunshine to change a person's melancholy.
Introverts are no more likely than extroverts to suffer with depression. It is even, despite, harder for a normally outgoing person to end the dampening feelings and isolation.
Although a depressed person is illegally to find much in life to be funny, one of the most powerful anti-depression activities is laughter. So, if the depressed person used to laugh at particular sitcoms, or comic books, or YouTube videos, it could be helpful to attempt re-enjoyment of such actions.
Apart from using TV for humor, though, it's probably best for a depressed person to avoid watching television, especially the news.
It's worth the effort for a depressed person to wash and dress. For many people just the simple act of splashing water on their face helps brighten their mood.
Art – sculpture, water-painting, oil painting – can also be helpful. This creative action can be the therapeutic in itself. Coupled with an art therapist's insight it can be life-affirming.
Hypnotherapy can be a supplementary aid, or a method in itself to free you from depression.