Cryin’ the blues
It is a fact — more of us are suffering from depression and more of us are seeking psychotherapy and other treatment forms to get help and yet a puzzle remains. We have had centuries of formal and informal psychotherapy for depressed people, yet the world for many of us continues to deteriorate.
While the immediate causes of depression are often thought to be related to personal problems, a new aspect is the absence of hope. It is as though some final realization has sunk in: things are just not going to get better — they are going to get worse.
Confronting this appraisal of life, I began to look more closely at the depressed person’s assessment of the world and I found such evaluations appear to be more accurate than first assessed. Then I wondered what is happening in treatment.
Could the dearth of socially committed women and men be caused by an obsession with ourselves — a situation strategically aided by prolonged psychotherapy? Has psychotherapy focused our creative powers on our past experiences in childhood rather than centering on today’s realities?
Rather than focus exclusively on the intra-psychic/intra-personal world, the real goals of therapy should be to recapture the emotional and intellectual strength to confront, interact with and influence the external world and the ineluctable hungers of all people.
Also complicating things is that today depression is considered unacceptable.
Our society is characterized by an activity ethic; as long as we keep moving, keep active, stay on the treadmill and smile even though it leads to oblivion, our society accepts us.
In the past, melancholia was accepted as a natural state, an appropriate attitude to adopt when things started to fall apart. Not so today.
The depressed person is seen as needing extreme intervention: lithium, anti-depressants and electro-shock therapy. And what is left of the creative products of melancholia: a sense of beauty, creativity, poetry?
An extensive study of British artists and writers revealed that highly creative people suffered from a mood disorder such as depression.
The data confirm what letters, diaries and biographical accounts of well-known poets, artists and composers have also revealed: highly creative people tend to experience extremes of mood which in turn fuel the creative process.
Leonard Woolf, husband of novelist Virginia Woolf who suffered from severe depression, describes the relationship between Virginia’s affliction and her creativity in this way: “I am quite sure that Virginia’s genius was closely connected with what manifested itself as mental instability and insanity.
The creative imagination, her ability to ‘leave the ground’ and the voluble delusions of the breakdowns all came from the same place in her mind.
That in itself was the crux of her life, the tragedy of her genius.”
Depressed people often become so because they are told that something is wrong with them, whereas the truth may be that they sense something in the world is seriously wrong.
Every time we feel angry about the way some clerk treats us or we are frustrated about corruption in the government, or we watch the value of our investments sink, or are enraged about the slaughter of innocents across the world, we take this legitimate anger into therapy and ventilate it all away, thereby depriving ourselves and others of constructive and creative rage.
Therapy often concentrates on the internal world, ignoring the external world; so we introspect rather than fight injustice. Such a focus just may hurry the decline of our society.
Part of the problem, too, is the low level of tolerance we have for sadness. “What, me worry?” “Don’t worry – be happy!” and smile stickers indicate our addiction to the upbeat.
When we are down our friends typically will say: “Snap out of it!” “Cheer up” “Things are not so bad — pull yourself together.”
Rather than cheer up or snap out of it, some healers such as psychoanalyst and writer James Hillman argue that you can’t understand something if you are fighting it.
For Hillman, depression forces the truth upon us. As Carl Jung once wrote: “There is a God in the disease trying to tell you something quite significant.”
Perhaps depression reflects a profound appreciation for the tragic in life. Hillman says that a true social revolution, a way of bettering all for all, must begin with that individual “who can be true to his/her depression.”
This means transforming the child into an adult, the internal into the external.
It will be much more therapeutic for us to listen more attentively to the reasons for our depression.
We might then externalize the anger rather than dissipating it in a therapy session; then we might be driven to do something about the many injustices we face, admittedly they are quite depressing.