I see two big problems in the help that society offers to those suffering from depression. The first is that there is no credible and widely acceptable explanation of what a depression is – at least not one that those who are suffering can believe in and identify with and so relieve some of the fear that they live with. The second problem is that there is such a wide range of advice and ideas of what can be done – that those suffering often end up confused, scared and feeling worse. Of course the second problem follows from the first – for if there was a credible and accepted explanation of what causes depression, this would immediately cut down the number of treatments and create a structure into which those that were left could be better understood. It would no longer be a scatter-gun but more a laser gun.
I believe that such a depression explanation exists – and that this explanation will make sense to most of those who suffer so much – and further, that from this explanation it is possible to place many of the depression tips and treatments into some kind of coherent whole.
What are my credentials to be speaking on this subject? Well I am a therapist who helps the large majority of those who come to me lost in their depression. My methods are based on the Human Givens approach, in which I am a qualified practitioner and which is becoming well known in the UK and is even recognised by our National Health Service.
So, what are the treatments and advice for dealing with depression? At one end, there is the primarily medical and conventional. This sees medication and cognitive behavioural therapy as a large part of the answer (either separately or together) and which is now very much persuaded with the role meditation and mindfulness practices can play. The critical assumption is that depression is an illness and in trying to put flesh on this, the conventional medical wisdom posits the existence of chemical imbalances, of cognitive distortions and clinical factors and so on. But even the friends and defenders of the conventional wisdom will often acknowledge the struggles it has to make these theories meaningful and believable. And I think that this unequal struggle is why the common approach is simply to list symptoms and behaviours and to assert and pretend that this is an adequate alternative to a believable theory of depression
These lists of depression symptoms are ubiquitous and are all much the same. In trying to explain what depression is these lists are of course simply stating what depression is like. So take these four symptoms (chosen pretty well at random from a typical list) – low mood, loss of pleasure, bad sleep, and inability to concentrate. As a explanation of what causes a depression and to give confidence that your depression is well understood – it is just not good enough.
And then below the surface of the conventional wisdom, you will find an enormous range of advice on what can be done. Diet and nutrition is often identified as important as will the taking of regular exercise. And many sufferers of depression will recommend what they found helped them recover – such as a spiritual practices and developing interests in anything from poetry to Christianity.
Now I am not saying that any or all of these cannot play a part in recovery from depression. And that also applies to meditation and mindfulness – which in my professional experience can really cement recovery from depression.
But into what bigger picture do all of these tips and ideas fit? How best can you create some harmony and understanding between these suggestions for depression help and the long lists of symptoms and science speak that currently passes for a coherent theory of what depression actually is? Well that is where Human Givens comes in.