Behavioral Health Consultant, Trainer and EAP Manager

Seattle, Washington

Why Can’t Depressed People Just Move On?

Question: Why Can’t Depressed People Just Move On?


It is a little mysterious. On one hand, losses and big stresses cause depression. On the other hand, many people who have had a lifelong smooth road get terribly depressed while many others, with a horrific past or terrible current situation, do not.

There is still a lot we do not know about what makes the difference, but there is a lot we do know. Here some factors you would want to have going for you:

Choose good genes. If you have parents, grandparents and siblings with major depression, your chances of having it are statistically elevated. This is not to say that your genes are anything like a destiny – only that they are a factor.

Get a good upbringing. Apart from your family’s genetic influence, there is the environmental one. In other words, you may have parents or others who displayed the “pick up and move on” method for you to learn. This may or may not be better than a household atmosphere in which emotions are openly acknowledged and accepted. The best environment would have both sets of lessons.

Come from a history in which you could experience some success in your efforts. By this I mean everything from the small efforts, like receiving the reasonable things you ask for, to big ones, like finding safety after a traumatic event. With a high rate of defeats, we develop a “learned helplessness” so that we later fail to exert ourselves even when doing so would clearly pay off.

Maintain health and safety. Poverty or ongoing threats to your well-being will put you at greater risk.

Cultivate personal support. This can range from having a spouse or committed partner, close friends, casual friends, a collegial co-worker and even a friendly neighbor. It can come from belonging to a team, an interest group or a community group of any kind. An atmosphere of love helps but, as with all of these items is neither necessary nor sufficient by itself. The jury is still out as to whether a cyber-network of instant-messaging friends counts for much.

Avoid harmful chemicals. This includes alcohol. It includes marijuana too. Even moderate amounts, if you are depressed, could be a problem.

Avoid ruminating. Dwelling on regrets, fears and insecurities is rarely a solution. It is a problem. The solution is to involve yourself in anything that makes better use of your attention.

Be active. Exercise may be the single best medicine. You earn more points if the exercise is enjoyable and/or involves others.

Now, of course there are a number of people who appear to be depressed from the view of everyone around, while they do not think of themselves as depressed at all. They may be sullen, irritable and a general drag on the rest of us. We cannot in principle tell someone else how they feel, but those observations have to be worth something. Then, there are also those who brood and despair, but who manage positive relationships, work productively and generally contribute more than they drain away.

This group is much more likely to complain of depression. Of the two however, which is better off – the worried well or the walking wounded?

Finally, I think your point is an excellent one. At some point, extensive talk about depression must be counter-productive. As a society we are far from that point, I believe. For any given individual though, picking up and moving on may be the quickest cure. The method just does not come as naturally to many as it does to you.

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