Giving more thought to yesterday's post, I listened to a TED.com lecture on depression last night. The speaker, Andrew Solomon, claimed that a certain portion of the human population is genetically disposed to depression as it is clinically defined, though life events trigger descents into profound states of depression. At the bottom, a depressed person can become immobilized with fear, self-doubt and sadness to the point where ordinary simple every day tasks seem like mountains to overcome. Such a person often contemplates suicide and not so infrequently carries it through. The speaker, himself someone who has suffered severe depression, said that depression is the number one ailment internationally, though little is known and understood about it. He said it is a secret in many households across cultures, though interpretations of and remedies for depression may vary widely. Andrew Solomon interprets clinical depression as a lack of vitality, so the successful remedy(ies) is to rebuild vitality, which can be accomplished in various ways. He balks at the over-reliance on conventional remedies of drug therapy but does not refute that drug therapy, combined with counseling and other activities, are healthy and useful.
I am not well enough informed to say much, but my impression from all I've heard about clinical depression, is that the causes may be genetics and body chemistry, but that it may also be self-induced by one's approach to grief (from any sort of profound loss) and problems of life. If the latter is indeed a cause, then the remarks of Solomon about restoring vitality ring true to me.
One aspect of restoring vitality would have to be in reviewing and changing one's perspective and approach to problems of living. That takes activating one's mind and education for practical ends. Becoming more aware as to the contexts of problems and the external root causes, can surely help. Being focused on solving problems with confidence in there being solutions, and learning problem-solving techniques can move one's mind away from total immersion in one's own emotional reactions, and mitigate blame, shame, guilt, fear and pessimism. This kind of approach can bring vitality to the mind, emotions and spirit, I think. That would mean coming alive by tuning into life, being more conscious of what's happening, more sensitive to the social and physical environment and more reflective in a forward-thinking way, meaning with vision and a view to striving for understanding and making change happen.
I for one, do not have and never have had depression, but I know many people who have or have had it. Of course, I and most other people experience feeling blue from time to time. I would say that people generally resist becoming more conscious and active because becoming alive means being aware and having to be more responsible with that knowledge and more involved in society. Most people probably are reluctant because being passive seems easier, even though passivity brings problems upon oneself, actually increasing the burden. Yet, I think people perceive becoming more active and involved as an added big burden.
In my view and experience, because I have gone through a process of realization and self-activation, though, the process is liberating. In short, I'm talking about acquiring and applying knowledge. Hey, I'm a teacher. Knowledge is power and liberation, if you also learn how to use it. It results in a more positive outlook, makes one more understanding and therefore more forgiving about people, takes away blame by revealing structural and systematic causes, and reveals that many of the personal, financial, political and social barriers are made by people, and therefore can be undone or changed. It makes a person aware that they have more choices, and makes them freer to choose actions, rather than allowing circumstances and the actions of others make you a victim. It is being assertive, which is empowering. One can become more assertive and empowered without becoming aggressive; in fact, I think it can leave someone free to choose to be empathetic and helpful. Helping others is indeed part of the solution.
This approach can be applied to little problems and daily personal life, and it can be applied to work and societal issues. Like today I am resisting pessimism because I understand that I've had too much solitude lately, and too little exercise and too much work, so I plan to join my recreational group and go for a hike this afternoon. I don't like the route they've chosen, so I've made a compromise in that I've told them I'll meeting them literally halfway on the trail and continue with them. I'll enjoy the fresh air, company and scenery, which will reinvigorate me, as it always does.