If you're suffering from depression, your brain isn't broken
This blog post was written by a young man called James in the UK.
Most people suffering from depression and related conditions believe exactly as I did for many years; that there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. Some sort of misplaced connection that’s different to everyone else, like a badly-wired plug or a car with an intermittent fault that nobody else can experience or see but you.
BUT, I can tell you now with a great degree of certainty – informed by my own experience and that of many others who suffered from lifelong depression – that this isn’t the case.
Yes, your GP and NHS-based mental health practitioner will have explained how your brain chemistry is the mental equivalent of a school science experiment gone wrong because that’s the way that the general medical profession have viewed many mental health problems for decades. Their solution to this is to medicate. You break a leg and it’s obvious that your bone has physically snapped and needs to be put in plaster – thus, when you suffer from a mental health problem your brain must be chemically broken or damaged in the same way and needs fixing.
This isn’t true a lot of the time. As complex creatures, humans have become adept at creating these problems for ourselves through the way we process events and things that happen to us, even though we don’t do this consciously or with any awareness of what we’re doing. This is a well-established concept with considerable research behind it stretching back decades. Perhaps the best known and most compelling study on this subject was published in 1984 by Jerry M Burger, the highly respected professor of Psychology at Santa Clara University.
Jeremy Burger studied students over a six-month period and identified thinking styles and habits that led to mental health problems – for example, students who thought their lives were generally controlled by chance were most likely to have suicidal thoughts. It was also found that subjects with a high desire for control in their lives – manifesting itself in something like anxiety or OCD-type symptoms – who held external perceptions of control (i.e. they thought that their life is dictated by outside influences such as relationships or work) were most likely to seek nonprofessional help for depression.
Going further back, Beck (1972) proposed holding certain beliefs, such as negative views of oneself, pessimism about the future, and interpretation of ongoing experiences in a negative manner, are responsible for many subsequent depressive episodes. Further studies by Abramson, Seligman, and Teasdale (1978), and Miller and Norman (1979) explored the relation between thought processes and depression.
In short, these and many more academic studies consistently link – what can loosely be described as – ‘unhelpful thought processes’ to many common mental health problems. There is little evidence of chemical imbalances or ‘faulty wiring’ being the actual cause.
So, the big question is: how does this all help you right now if you’re suffering from depression, anxiety or a similar condition? The good news is that your brain almost certainly isn’t broken, faulty or different to everyone else’s. The likelihood is that you’ve processed certain life events or experiences in a way that leads to feelings of helplessness, lack of control and negativity (see Beck’s 1972 list above) and subsequent depression, anxiety or similar mental health condition has then taken its grip. This is exactly what happened to me.
And because I created this problem, I’m the one who can fix it. And I’ve done just that.
Several months ago I found out about something called The Thrive Programme following a chance conversation with a friend. I made the call and signed up to see a Thrive Consultant immediately. When I began I was on two different types of medication prescribed by my well-meaning GP – a mood stabiliser and strong anti-depressant – and I’d also put on weight, had low self-esteem, no job, no home and generally not a lot going for me (or so I thought). My life was dominated by negative thought processes and I felt mentally ill – like the wiring in my brain was fundamentally broken or different to everyone else’s.
After the very first Thrive Programme training session (I had six in total) I felt much more in control. After the second session, I already noticed and improvement in my depression! Twelve weeks after starting the programme (six weeks after finishing it) I stopped taking my medication, and I haven’t missed it or needed it since.It’s now five months later and life couldn’t be better. The programme taught me how to process past and current events effectively, and to think in such a way that I don’t allow negativity to creep in and begin that destructive cycle of unhelpful thought processes that can lead to depression – as identified by Berger et al.
I now feel equipped to deal with things that would’ve previously caused my mental health to suffer – I’m resilient, happy, productive and every aspect of my life has improved. The best thing is that, by using the techniques and strategies I learnt through Thrive, I’ve helped myself with no medication or therapists to prop me up. For the first time in recent memory, I feel ‘normal’, and I love it.