You’re depressed. You feel like nothing makes sense. You’re tired. You try to be happy, but it’s impossible. The whole world looks like a gray damp hole. You want to curl up in a human-shaped ball, stay still and to wait it all out.

From a medical point of view, you would be told that you suffer from depression, a disease which should be treated. Pills and therapies are there to help you climb out of the black hole. The underlying assumption (not necessarily voiced directly) being — bring you back to the society and make you productive again. Happy and smiling back in the world. Let’s have a quick look at this world, just to name a few characteristics:Fast pace of life, ruthlessness of the capitalist mindset with productivity & effectiveness being valued the most, an increasing social and economic stratification, rapidly progressing environmental destruction and (due to this and other factors) people having less and less contact with nature.

Is depression a disease?

Some people benefit from calling depression a disease. This gives them hope for a change. Also, they can let go of the overwhelming feeling of guilt and responsibility that they somehow made themselves depressed. That it’s their fault, their weakness and they should get their shit together for once. This is another throwback from the domineering individualistic stance of the western culture. We stop seeing the bigger picture.I try to stay away from medical labels. Sometimes they’re useful, but I hate it when they stay in the way of recognizing the individual experience of a person in distress. Without them, we can start to listen to the depression. One of my teachers once said: the biggest problem with depression is that nobody wants it. Nobody wants it, most people just want to get rid of it, and what it needs is to be listened to.There are as many stories that depression tells as there are people suffering from it. It’s also rarely disconnected from the wider context — of family, community, society and the world. We need to consider the context so that the person doesn’t end up feeling all alone in their struggle and solely responsible for it.

are the stories that depression tells when we gather the courage to listen to it without being dismissive or defensive?

I can’t stand being told to be happy when I see that the world is a fucked up place.
I’m being told to pursue happiness, but there’s this dark part in me and in the world, I don’t want to ignore it anymore.
I want to do something that will make me feel fulfilled, but I’ve wasted my best years doing what I was told was good.
I want to connect with what makes my soul sing, but I have no idea how to do it, since all my life I’ve been taught to behave “well” and do what I was expected to.
I see that the world is a fucked up place, so I try to disconnect from the feelings it evokes — but I can’t do it anymore.
I’ve been doing a job that turns out to make no real sense. I want to do something meaningful, but I feel helpless about it.
I’m stuck in a relationship that sucks, but I’m too scared to get out of it.
I feel disconnected from the world and I long for connection. I used to numb out this longing, but I can’t stand it anymore. Internet connection is not enough.
I feel that I’m not good enough, not pretty enough, not successful enough since I’m constantly being bombarded with unrealistic images & exhausting expectations.
I want to be still and quiet and to listen to myself, but the world keeps pushing me outwards.
I see the cruelty of people and feel helpless with all this suffering in the world.

You get the idea. Such thoughts usually are not the most welcomed ones, are they. They are not pleasant, they are uncomfortable and they usually call for some sort of change. It’s easier to not listen to them.

We live in a world where most people have bullshit jobs that do not enrich them in any meaningful way. What those jobs do is they bring profit to a selected group at the top. Fake needs fanned by the consumption culture force us to stay at our meaningless jobs. We are hostages of a system that makes us pay the mortgage for most of our adult lives. We destroy our environment, bringing our planet to the verge of a total ecological destruction.

We are told how to pursue happiness (which became another commercial buzzword), yet we have every reason to be depressed. Maybe we should be. Maybe those, who are depressed are the sensitive ones who carry an important message about the state we all are in?Blocking out dark moods, difficult feelings, despair, outrage, sadness, loss, whether with meds or with a commercial version of meditation, make us poorer as human beings. Because only if we actually recognize what’s wrong and let ourselves get deeply touched by that, we will be able to act on it. The world epidemic of depression did not appear out of nowhere. We need to listen to what depression says, take it seriously and try to do something about it. The so-called “negative” emotions are an important inner mechanism signaling that something is wrong. There is a tendency to dismiss them, a constant pressure to be “positive”. But as fear helped our ancestors survive in the ancient savannas, triggering the life-saving fight or flight instinct, today we also need to hear our emotions out. If we numbourselves out, we not only cut ourselves off from the richness of our inner life, but we also turn away from what might be a powerful change agent. It requires courage, inner power and often support, to act on it, but I strongly believe that’s the best way to deal with depression.

And why do “we” need your depression?

Because it is often not only about your personal situation (although the personal level cannot be underestimated) but also about the world’s situation. We need to stop considering psychotherapy and psychological suffering only in individualistic terms. The dark side of individualism is the growing human disconnection from nature, from each other and from the deeper meaning of life.

Of course, this is only one aspect of the issue. Depression, or any other symptom for that matter, should be considered on all levels — of the individual, the family system, social, economic and political contexts, historical background (inherited traumas) and environmental aspect (the emerging field of ecopsychology).
My main message, however, is this: depression is not just “faulty thinking” or “chemical imbalance”, it is a cry for change.

Joanna Boj

I am a psychologist and a psychotherapist with a knack for writing. And technology :) I work using process oriented psychology approach and share ideas and examples from my practice on this blog. If you would like to work with me (via Skype), please use the contact form.