What is depression? (and why it should be part of our communities).

Depression is a phrase that we hear more and more of in today’s society. And there’s no doubt for those who experience it, depression will mean different things at different times to each individual.

Given that, I suppose the most helpful thing is to start with the ‘what it isn’t’ list;

Depression is not something to be ignored or taken lightly

You need to talk to someone. If you think you might be depressed, reach out to a friend, colleague, even a stranger and talk. The dangerous paradox of depression is that quite often it means that wanting to be alone or isolated, is what is preferred, which invariably makes the situation much worse.

Depression doesn’t mean that something is ‘wrong’ with you

I believe all of us are able to experience some form of depression at least once in our lives and instead of viewing it as just a sickness that needs curing, we need to take a more holistic view of why it is present in our lives and what it is bringing to us, as well as what it is not. Attaching further negative beliefs around how we might have ‘brought this upon ourselves’ will only serve to cause more heartache and bring about more feelings of isolation.

The experience of depression is not the same for everyone

Of course for the purposes of a medical diagnosis there are some common features and definitions that exits, which we will look at in a moment, but there are also deep and personal features to depression which will be unique. It can occur at any age, any life stage and to anyone of any sex, in any community, ethnic background or social status. It is, unlike human beings, less discriminatory. This means that given each of our unique historical backgrounds we will all make meaning of and experience depression in very different ways. What is common is the sense that ‘vitality’ has slipped away from us.

The Depression Alliance (2013), talks about how you are not 'just' sad or upset when faced with clinical depression but have intense feelings of persistent sadness, helplessness and hopelessness which are usually accompanied by physical effects such as sleeplessness, a loss of energy, or physical aches and pains[1].

My personal and professional experience takes the above into account but I take a wider view of depression, which at times, transcends the individual experience and will have some of its roots in the collective 'depressed psyche'. In this sense, depression can be exasperated or even triggered by local or world events, for example.

The field of Ecopsychology studies the human psyche and the larger systems of which it is part (Brown, 2004)[2] and within this field it has become widely recognised that depression can often form a part of a greater whole. Looking at individual depression as part of the personal context as well as that of social, economic and sometimes even global concerns can help to bring greater meaning to this period and therefore open up different ways of offering support to those who need it.

Each person who is struggling with this time in their lives needs to seek help and support, particularly because I believe depression to be something above and beyond the individual.

The need to raise awareness of depression within our communities, whatever form they take, is paramount. This is not a ‘new’ illness, it is how we have come to deal with it that has changed. The need for us to support and allow ourselves to be supported within a community setting has come around again. To look beyond individual pain and history for causes of depression, are also needed. We all need to acknowledge that within our societies and current global perspective there are often deeper reasons why human beings feel hopeless or a lack of vitality in their depressive states. Offering a more collective response towards depression, will therefore go a long way.


[1] http://www.depressionalliance.org/help-and-information/what-is-depression.php

[2] Brown, M. Y. (2004) Unfolding Self: The Practice of Psychosynthesis. New York: Allworth Press.

For more information about anything in this article please contact me.

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