John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD


The Downward Spiral of Depression

Man holding head

Major Depression. Chronic depression. Situational depression. Depressions vary in kind and severity, but what they have in common, at their core, is negativity and despair.

Depressed persons see the glass as half-full. They have a perceptual bias toward extracting negative information from situations while minimizing or ignoring positive information. They have negative views of self, other, world. And they don’t just perceive negativity, they recall it. Their memories are consistent with their moods. It’s not necessarily that they had more negative experiences to begin with, it’s that their minds filter out the positive memories to match their depressed state of mind.

Unfortunately, negative thinking leads to negative actions which turn often result in negative results. In this way, negativity is self-reinforcing. If you act on your negative perceptions, and get back negative results, your views are confirmed. And then despair sets in. Despair is when we believe there is no hope that things will get better. This mood, this pain, this self, this world, this life––there is hope that any of it will ever be different.

This is how the spiral starts.

Depression is exhausting, mind-numbing, painful. The depressed person struggles to function. It’s just too tempting to sit in the chair, lay on the bed, or hide out from the world. Or use some substance to help numb the pain. Unfortunately, our bodies restore energy by expending energy. They are not like batteries. We must move to get energy. But movement and effort are generally the last things the depressed person wants to do.

So down the spiral we go, slipping deeper and deeper into the mood, the negativity, the despair. Is it any wonder that most truly depressed persons start thinking seriously about suicide?

But wait! We can interrupt the spiral.

The secret lies in getting inside of the negativity. Negative thinking is fraught with distortion. In therapy, we call these negative thoughts out into the open and examine them. Some perceptions may indeed be accurate (losing your job is tough no matter how you cut it), but frequently the depressed person distorts reality without realizing they’re doing it, or without realizing how much they do it. Once we restore balance in thinking patterns, the spiral starts to work in reverse.

Depression can be overcome. Don’t let despair convince you otherwise.

(Photo by Dhammza)