Building a Meaningful Life Is the Best Medicine
Depression is known as the common cold of mental illness. Whether it is a friend, a patient or a student, it just seems like everyone is suffering from depression. In fact, one out of six people will be diagnosed with the disorder during their lifetime. Ouch! A lot of tears are being shed!
Fortunately mental health pro-fessionals are well-equipped to handle widespread depression. There are countless medications that "fix" the chemical imbalance and plenty of therapists are willing to lend an ear. The media has even joined the campaign to increase awareness. From public service announcements to celebrity accounts of the disease, there is much discourse on the topic. With the exception of Tom Cruise's foolish display on The Today Show, much of what I have seen and heard is accurate. And that's the good news.
Sadly, even with this avalanche of information, some depressed folks are still missing the big picture. They are popping pills daily and spilling their guts in therapy, but they remain morose. They are stuck in their bedrooms with the lights off and curtains closed, isolated from the world.
With no job, friends or worthwhile diversions, it is no wonder they are depressed. In fact, it is logical that they are. Not even the most potent dose of Prozac will cure this kind of emptiness. The only solution is to re-enter the world.
The cure to an obstinate depression is to create a meaningful existence; to live a life worth living. Understandably, this is difficult for someone who is depressed. They lack energy, find no pleasure in activities and are overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. However, it is critical that they fight the illness's demons. They must resist the inkling to crawl back under the covers and hide from the world.
I use some simple strategies with patients to help them build a life that has meaning. First, at the beginning of each week they are instructed to schedule at least one reinforcing activity each day. The purpose is for them to introduce some pleasure into their pleasure-less lives.
Second, they must reconnect socially. I encourage them to phone an old friend, join a club or organization, or even an online support group. The rationale is simple; they need to have human contact so that they feel connected to the world. Third, they must contribute to society in a meaningful way. A job (volunteer or paid) can be the best anti-depressant. I don't care if it is for 30 minutes a week. The point is that it is important for anyone who is alive to feel that their presence in the world benefits others.
Getting this is truly the key to conquering depression. Medicine is an excellent option, but on its own it is inadequate for moderate to severe depression. Therapy is great too, but when the focus of sessions is on analysis and not action, it is problematic. Building a meaningful existence is like taking medicine - it tastes bad and is hard to swallow, but the payoff makes it worth the pain. If you know someone who is suffering from depression, I encourage you to pass this article on. It may just be exactly what they need.
Dr. Andrea M. Macari holds a Ph.D. in Clinical and School Psychology and is an Instructor of Psychology at Suffolk County Community College. She has appeared on ABC, CNN Headline News, the Discovery Channel, CNBC, and Court TV as well as dozens of radio stations. Please see her website, www.DrMacari.com, for her biography or for more information on mental illness.