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You’re making your depression worse: Self-help is bringing us down


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You’re making your depression worse: Self-help is bringing us down

 

Sunday, Feb 16, 2014 11:30 AM in Salon

by Jonathan Rottenberg

 

We've never had so much advice about how to feel better. But all the self-help books only make our moods worse.

 

The puzzling reality is that human depression is increasing in an era when environmental conditions are relatively benign. The average citizen in Western society now lives longer, is less likely to starve, and enjoys considerably greater wealth than his sixteenth-century counterpart. Presumably these objective conditions for survival and reproduction would cause depression rates to fall, not rise to nearly one in five citizens. This environment-depression disconnect seems less strange when we appreciate that there are additional human-specific routes into depression. Homo sapiens has the dubious distinction of being a species that can become depressed without a major environmental insult.

There is no scientific consensus about why human depression rates are rising in the industrialized world, but several compelling possibilities exist. Their common thread is our species’ unusual relationship with mood and the doors it opens for unique routes into depression. A chimpanzee is capable of feeling bad, but only a human being can feel bad about feeling bad. Former tennis great Cliff Richey, in his memoir “Acing Depression,” described how he became engulfed by low mood: “One of the horrible things about depression—in addition to the foul, odorous, sick, deathly mood you’re in—is that you’re now spending so much of your time, almost all of it, just trying to fix yourself. You’re consumed by, ‘How can I fix this horrible thing?’”

Humans have a host of unique thoughts and reactions to low mood, many of which are highly cognitive. Only a human can keep a mood diary or write a book about depression.  We often think of what’s uniquely human as uniquely better. Surely pride may be a reasonable emotion for the species that harnessed fire and put a man on the moon. It’s easy to see traits such as advanced language, the ability to be self-aware, and participation in a rich shared culture as unalloyed virtues. Yet when it comes to “fixing” mood, all of these special human assets can turn into liabilities, with the unintended consequence of making depression worse.

Sinking Through Thinking

A hallmark human response to low mood is to try to explain it—as we do with moods generally. We use language to construct theories about where painful feelings come from. The basic idea is, “If I understand why I feel bad, I will know how to fix it.” This impulse makes sense. It fits with a main function of low mood, which is to help draw attention to threats and obstacles in unfavorable environments. In a low mood, behavior pauses and the environment is analyzed more carefully.

However, exactly what “analyze more carefully” means depends on which species is doing the analyzing. The schnauzer, Ollie, just separated from his sister, may sit at the window for hours looking for signs of her return. Visual search is the sum total of his environmental analysis. When a human pines for a loved one, say a mother missing her son away at summer camp, the analytical field is far wider. Our outsized language capability draws in thoughts linked to the situation: “That head counselor seemed awfully young.”; “Did I remember to pack sunscreen?”; “I wonder why we haven’t gotten a postcard?” These thoughts may then trigger further mental images—a flash of Tommy drowning, the funeral—as well as feelings—a pang of guilt for ever letting him go to Camp Meadowlark in the first place.

Such reflections on mood have a purpose beyond self-flagellation. The mood system is practical and most interested in what to do next, in finding the action that will enhance fitness. What people brood about is not random but tracks key evolutionary themes (finding a mate, staying alive, achieving status, defending kith and kin, etc.). Mothers and fathers worry about their children at summer camp because mistakes in child rearing are evolutionarily costly. A mother who figures out that she’s dwelling on a failure to pack sunscreen can send a remedial Coppertone care package, and, the next time Tommy is sent away, he’s more likely to be fully provisioned. Even the most backward-looking counterfactual thinking (coulda, shoulda, woulda) has a forward-looking element: understanding why bad things happened helps us prevent their recurrence.

 

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Read more here.

As always, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! A proud supporter of the 10% (or slower) rule.

 

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Read my intro thread here, and check the about me section.  "No matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up." Lily Tomlin

 

 

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his thesis is deeply flawed in my opinion...we have dozens and dozens of environmental insults...they're just different sorts of insults from the 16th century. 

Everything Matters: Beyond Meds 

https://beyondmeds.com/

withdrawn from a cocktail of 6 psychiatric drugs that included every class of psych drug.
 

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I just quickly glanced at the article but here are my initial thoughts.   As one who has been helped by very few self help books, I can appreciate the articles's main point about how self help books may make things worse.

 

I know when I would purchase one for any topic, I was trying to find the magical answer only to feel like I failed because I didn't feel the book understood my situation and as a result, made me feel like more of a failure.  I admit my expecations were totally unrealistic but I guess I am just trying to give perspective on this article.

 

Regarding when I experience depression, it is pretty easy for me to to figure out, particularly with my current situation with sleep.   Don't need extensive analysis on that.

 

I simply say to myself, "totally understandable and that I am doing the best I can to deal with the situation."   If I need to cry and am in a position where I can, I do it.   Don't need a self help book for that.

 

By the way, I wonder if people would allow themselves to cry, if the need for self help books would decrease?

 

CS

Drug cocktail 1995 - 2010
Started taper of Adderall, Wellbutrin XL, Remeron, and Doxepin in 2006
Finished taper on June 10, 2010

Temazepam on a PRN basis approximately twice a month - 2014 to 2016

Beginning in 2017 - Consumption increased to about two times per week

April 2017 - Increased to taking it full time for insomnia

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I agree, that in general self help books suck...I left out that part of the equation...   :)

 

but I have been helped by some esoteric texts of all sorts...not so much the popular psych stuff, though

Everything Matters: Beyond Meds 

https://beyondmeds.com/

withdrawn from a cocktail of 6 psychiatric drugs that included every class of psych drug.
 

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Hi Gia,

 

A psychiatrist that some relatives went to several years ago agreed with you on self help books.   This guy would have hated the current enviroment for psychiatrists as he didn't believe in meds unless they were abolutely necessary.  He actually was able to get one of them who was suffereing from big time depression and in a catonic state back to work.  I have never forgotten that.

Drug cocktail 1995 - 2010
Started taper of Adderall, Wellbutrin XL, Remeron, and Doxepin in 2006
Finished taper on June 10, 2010

Temazepam on a PRN basis approximately twice a month - 2014 to 2016

Beginning in 2017 - Consumption increased to about two times per week

April 2017 - Increased to taking it full time for insomnia

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