By Brad Phillips, May 27, 2019
These days, we often hear about a state of continuous bad mood that we all know as depression. Depression became an overused word lately and it shouldn’t be mixed up with the feelings of sadness, nostalgia or melancholy.
It’s ok to be sad if your pet died, to feel nostalgic about your family if you study abroad and it’s ok to cry for the relationship you broke up with 2 months ago.
Sometimes it’s can be very tricky to recognize the difference between difficult life situations and the symptoms of depression.
In life, there are few aspects that directly influence our mood and well being. For example: having friends and family, meaningful job, productively using your free time, having something to look forward to and so on.
These are the dimensions that we continuously work on and try to optimize. We need these aspects settled in order to not lead a miserable and wretched life. But what happens if you’re ecstatic in your social life, productive at work and you have lots of free time, but you still lie awake at night while you stare at the ceiling thinking that your life Is going nowhere.
Well in that case, you actually might be depressed. Depression manifests as a dysfunction of the emotional regulation.
It’s the situation when your mood is not aligned to the actual reality. Nothing really tragic has occurred, but something inside is telling you that everything is actually tragic. Suddenly, your whole mood is down and it starts to affects your capability to relax and have fun, work, socialize with other people or to define your self-confidence.
And to paint the whole picture we also need to identify what depression isn’t. We can use our buddy John for an example.
John works in a software company as a janitor. John is single in the last 8 years because he has a drinking problem.
He developed his addiction when his mother was diagnosed with cancer so he had to work as a janitor to pay for his mothers therapy, even though he had an engineering degree.
Now he feels like he is stuck. The future looks foggy and miserable. Because of the drinking problem he lost a lot of weight and his self-confidence went down the hill, so he started to avoid his friends instead of doing something about his appetite or alcohol addiction.
Now he is friendless, without a partner and broke. This is not depression, this is just a horrible, horrible life.
He is a man with a lot of problems. His problems are his low salary, sick mother, unsatisfactory job and alcohol addiction. And some of these problems are not even his own fault. But they are real life problems on which he has to work hard and eventually solve.
We can also explain what depression is and isn’t on a scientific, biochemical level using two hormones – Dopamine and Serotonin. Dopamine is the hormone of happiness.
It’s associated with positive emotions and makes us more enthusiastic. It is our best friend when it comes to moving forward in life.
Low levels of serotonin on the other hand are connected with negative emotions and general dissatisfaction.
It’s the number one hormone associated with, you guessed it, depression. And because, according to Professor Jordan Peterson, the symptoms of depression and low status are pretty much the same, many are diagnosed with depression, when in fact they just have a horrible life and a lot of problems, which is no fun at all. The diagnosis is the same, but the cure is different.
If you’re doing reasonably well on several of the dimensions that contribute to a healthy life and you feel sad all the time, this is where antidepressants come in handy, because they can work like charm if the problem lies within your emotional regulation.
But on the other hand, if you’re incompetent, without friends or a partner, if you don’t have anything productive to do, if you don’t have a job or some kind of routine, then antidepressants won’t help you much.
They can help you stand on your feet and tackle the problems one at a time, but the real cure lies in taking responsibility and putting your life together, since right now you’re not everything you could be. And there’s a really positive message in that. Once you start to confront the issues in your life and disarm them, then the world might not seem as dark and miserable after all.