Did you know that most people on anti-depressants are depressed again a year later? And between 2005 and 2015, the number of people living with depression worldwide increased by a staggering 18.4%.
Even though people are taking more antidepressants than ever, depression is still increasing. It’s paradoxical to think that the estimated 264 million people in the world living with depression are actually together in feeling alone and hopeless.
What the pharmaceutical companies seem to make consumers think is that antidepressants cure a chemical imbalance in their brains. But if that were true, why aren’t we seeing depression disappear? That’s not to say antidepressants don’t reduce the impact of symptoms and act as a bridge to effectively address the underlying problems, but relying on them to “cure” depression is not the answer.
We know this.
So how to cure depression?
Johann Hari, a journalist and author challenging what we know about mental health, poses that depression and anxiety arise because our basic needs aren’t being met. He challenges the chemical imbalance argument and argues that masking the symptoms is not the way to cure it.
Overcoming depression starts by understanding that it’s not just a diagnosis but a signal that something bigger needs attention, that something is missing or off-balance. And just as we would do for a car or a computer, we need to look inside to find out what’s causing that flashing red light.
Table of Contents
What Causes Depression?
Before we dive in, it’s crucial that you know these three things first if you’re suffering from depression:
- You’re not broken.
- You can overcome it.
- It’s probably a natural reaction to the environment you’re in and/or to the events that you’ve been through in your life.
It could be that you’re in an environment that is lacking basic needs such as connection, meaning, and passion, or that you’re holding irrational negative beliefs about yourself based on childhood or traumatic experiences, but one thing is for sure: whatever you’re feeling is real.
Whilst this article is not an exhaustive attempt to address all possible causes, we’ll talk about some of the most common causes of depression, namely the lack of meaningful connections and the negative beliefs that we hold from our past.
A Lack of Meaningful Connections
One of the most basic human needs is the primal need to feel connected, to be a part of something.
Our ancestral hunter-gatherers needed to be connected as part of a tribe in order to survive. Being rejected meant being exposed to the predators looking for weaklings, people who were alone and vulnerable.
Yes, times have changed, and we’re no longer expecting to be eaten alive in the middle of a city, but we still have that same need for a tribe, to have connection. The great irony is that we’re more able now to “connect” to humans all over the world, but we’re also lonelier than ever. We’re not getting as many real, meaningful connections.
The predators we face now are inside our own heads when we’re sitting alone in our flat feeling hopeless, sad, or (worst of all) feeling nothing. The predator is the belief that death is a way out, a way to ease the nothingness.
This is just one cause, but it’s a big one.
This isn’t about just talking to or being in the presence of others. You can feel alone in a crowd, and you can feel alone in a marriage. It’s not the physical aspect but the other bit that we get when we form a tribe: the meaning and satisfaction we feel when we share things with others. When we contribute some part of ourselves and improve some part of someone’s something, that’s when we feel a real connection.
In the working environments we’ve created for ourselves, people are working long hours with little to no connection or fulfillment. Our ancestors never had to deal with this type of environment, and it’s something which we need to be acutely aware of so that we can recognize and respond to the signals when we see them.
Professor Caccioppo, previously a psychologist at the University of Chicago and an expert in loneliness stated that:
“The purpose of loneliness is like the purpose of hunger. Hunger takes care of your physical body. Loneliness takes care of your social body, which you also need to survive and prosper. We’re a social species.”
We need these feelings to tell us something is off-balance. Feeling lonely and disconnected means you’re not getting enough of the human connection you need, so you need to change your approach. But if you don’t know that these feelings are signals, and you don’t take the right approach, it’s easy to just give up and say “I’ll never be able to solve this, I’m useless.”
Your subconscious mind believes the things you tell it, and if you’re telling it just how worthless you are, how useless and how unlovable you are, then there’s no wonder you’re feeling worthless, useless, and unlovable. This is another cause of depression: the scripts we tell ourselves.
Your Childhood Scripts
“I’ve always lived with depression, it’s just the way I am.”
Believing that you’re stuck or that you were born with depression is a major block stopping you from overcoming depression. If you’re replaying the same negative scripts over and over, scripts you’ve written for yourself and scripts that others have written for you, then it’s not surprising that your head isn’t an easy place in which to live.
Not feeling like you’re enough. Not feeling like you deserve to be happy. Feeling like you’re a lost cause.
All of these types of beliefs are things learned over the course of a life, most likely when you were young. Your logical mind didn’t develop until your early teens, so when someone told you that you weren’t good enough or made you feel alone, different or weird, then your emotional brain took that to be the truth about you. But sometimes as adults, we need to revisit the stuff we let in when we were kids because it’s almost always irrational and illogical.
It’s absolutely not your fault that you have them, but it is your responsibility to find and remove them.
A client of mine believed that he couldn’t change because it was the way he’d always been. When we overcame that belief, the next one was that he didn’t believe that what he did was ever good enough. He tried to fit into a career that he thought he needed to, and when he couldn’t face it anymore, he told himself he just wasn’t good enough.
He didn’t contemplate that he was just trying to be someone that he wasn’t and that there were things at which he was amazingly talented. But the shift happened when he started seeing that depression was just a sign for him to keep searching to find his passions, not to settle for a career he hated and to make peace with the relationship he had with his father.
This is something all of us need to work on, and often it’s easier with a therapist who specializes in the subconscious mind (as that’s where it’s all stored), but ultimately you can do this on your own with some real introspection.
How to Cure Depression
By now you’re no doubt aware that there’s no miracle “cure” to depression, but hopefully you can see that depression is a very real and often understandable response to things you’ve been through or things (or lack of) in your environment.
It’s not a matter of just “getting support” or “finding more friends”; that won’t solve it, and it’s not really what you need. Here are some things that will help:
1. Change Your Scripts
Overcoming depression starts by understanding how your brain works and how other people’s brains work. When you know that your pain has a purpose, that it’s a method of self-preservation, then you can start being aware of what it’s causing you to do and think. When you are aware, you can then change it and rewire it.
For more ways to shift your mindset and rewire your scripts, check out some tips here.
2. Build Meaning and Connection
Building meaningful connections with others will be easier by working on your emotional intelligence and communication skills. Understanding how to read people’s facial expressions, voice, and body language, and focusing on what that person is saying and feeling will help you develop these.
You’ll be able to get control over your self-preservation instincts causing you to feel threatened, and you can see people in a different light. When others feel heard, they’re going to want to hear from you. And if you actually open up, you might find that they feel the same or that you can show them a new perspective.
3. Do Selfless Acts
It has also been shown that we find meaning when doing something for others, doing something where you show human kindness and make a difference to someone. Start by passing on something helpful, or being there for someone, even if it feels really hard.
When you step up and show someone you care, or when you open up about your struggles and be vulnerable, someone who needs it (be it in your office, at a homeless shelter, or just a friend) you’ll be amazed at how good it feels. It’s small, incremental changes here that really help.
Depression is really signalling you to stop and take stock of what’s happening around you or what you’ve left unresolved from your past. Just know that you can work on it, that you can find out what ignites your fire and passion, and what makes you feel like you. Above all else, know that it’s all figureoutable and that you’re going to be fine.
More Tips on Dealing With Depression
At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.
Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.
One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.
When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.
So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.
Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day
This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.
Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.
When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.
Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity
One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.
Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.
An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.
When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.
Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day
Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.
We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.
By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.
Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment
While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.
I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.
You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.
Con #1: We Move a Lot Less
When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.
Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.
Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.
Con #2: Less Human Interaction
One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.
Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.
Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.
This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.
While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.
Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment
Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.
This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.
For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.
Con #4: Unique Distractions
Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.
For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.
To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.
Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.
We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.