Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Creative Coping: What is Depression? - By John Duggan

Depression is a serious illness, not a harmless part of life. As a psychotherapist recovering from a past experience of major clinical depression, I bring unique experiences to this dis-ease. I explain to clients how my experience is informed by academic study ("head" knowledge) and personal experience (empathy and "heart" knowledge.)

There are many metaphors, poetic descriptions and analogies seeking to express the emotional content of a depressive experience. Perhaps one of the most vivid: "it is similar to an emotional toothache, with no hope for solace." Any form of depression is a complex disorder with a variety of causes, including genetic, chemical, physical, and sociological. It is also influenced by behavior patterns learned in the family and by cognitive distortions.

Technically, the words "depression" is inaccurate -- there are many forms of "depressions" (plural). Nonetheless, all types of depression are a "whole body" concern -- mood disorders impact our physiology, biochemistry, thoughts, behaviors and capacity to make clear decisions. Here's the key; there is no shame or weakness if one lives with a mental health concern. It is important (critical) to be certain that an appropriate assessment and treatment plan is established. Like any other disease, if left untreated ... it often becomes worse.

Depression affects thousands of people in the United States. It is always troubling, yet for some people it can be severely disabling. Depression is more than just sadness or the blues; it can impact nearly every aspect of a persons life. People who suffer from it may experience despair and worthlessness, feelings that can greatly influence both personal and professional relationships. In this handout, many of the factors which evoke depression are described, and strategies for preventing depression are explored.

When a person suffers from depression, it can affect every part of his/her life, including ones physical body, behavior, thought processes, mood, ability to relate to others, and general lifestyle. Many folks report body aches, insomnia, lack of interest and difficulty with decision (including ordinary issues, such as "What do I want for dinner?").


People diagnosed with clinical depression typically have a combination of symptoms, including:

- Feelings of hopelessness, even when there is reason to be hopeful
- Fatigue or low energy
- Greatly reduced interest or pleasure in most regular activities
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Lessened ability to think or concentrate
- Indecisiveness
- Distorted thoughts and having an unrealistic view of life
- Weight gain or loss
- Appetite changes
- Sleeping pattern changes
- Recurrent thoughts of death
- Suicidal thoughts
- Specific plan for committing suicide
- Suicide attempt
- Feelings of restlessness or being slowed down

When a person suffers from depression, his/her symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in family, social, and occupational relationships, as well as other important areas of life. Such symptoms are not the result of a chronic psychotic disorder, substance abuse, a general medical condition, or bereavement. Depression may include feelings of sadness but is not the same as sadness. Depression lasts much longer and involves a loss of self-esteem, which sadness does not. People who are depressed function less productivity; people who are sad or disappointed continue to function.


Any form of depression is a "full-body" issue. It impacts our mind, body, spirit and emotions. If you or someone you know experiences any of these feelings or behaviors, seek assistance of a qualified mental health professional. This is a medical condition which can be treated ... and it's not a sign of weakness, failure or a valid source for shame.

"Creative Coping" is a series of mental wellness articles written and distributed by This series is dedicated to our human capacity for resiliency, wellness and transformation. Learn about "Who Get's Depression," "Paths to Wellness," and discover how to "Create a Recovery Program" in future articles!

After a career in broadcast media, John Duggan, M.A., NCC, LCPC embraced a contemplative transformation and earned graduate degrees in Counseling Psychology and Theology. He taught at university, worked at mental health clinics and is now a full-time as a psychotherapist/mentor. John shares personal passion with folks seeking mind-body-spirit-emotional wellness, resiliency and integral psychology. Contact John (

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