Some experts say depression comes with a number of upsides. Here are seven ways the condition could actually make you healthier — and happier — once your symptoms get better.
If you’ve ever grappled with depression, there’s a good chance you’ve got nothing pleasant to say about the illness — and for good reason: Depression can leave you brokenhearted, hopeless, and uninterested in the activities you once loved.
But according to some mental health experts, depression has a positive side. These “glass-half-full” specialists say that the symptoms of depression may actually be evolutionary adaptations.
“One way to think about it is the natural problem-solving capacities of depression,” explains J. Anderson Thomson, MD, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
The idea: Depression lets your body know that there’s a big problem in your world — and it forces you to focus on that problem and solve it. That may be why people who are depressed can’t seem to get moving in other areas of their lives. In that regard, says Dr. Thomson, depression is similar to pain, which signals your brain that some part of your body needs help. If the problem is too big for you alone, chances are that pain will make you cry out, signaling to people around you that you need help. Similarly, depression’s severity is a way of calling out to friends for help. At the extreme, suicidal thoughts and even attempts are their own cries for help.
“Depression tells you there’s a problem, tells you where the problem is, stops business as usual, and signals others that you are in distress,” explains Thomson.
But that’s not all: Recent research has explored a number of possible positives to depression, keying in on the unique skills you learn in order to deal with depression.
7 Ways Depression Makes You Stronger
Here’s what research is showing:
- You’re a better problem-solver. One of the symptoms of depression is poor concentration; another: an almost obsessive rumination about a problem in your life. To work out these symptoms, you may need a therapist or adviser to help you work your way through it — to help you focus your attention on solving an existing problem. The upside? Those analytical skills could be put to use effectively in your life. In fact, recent research suggests that depressed people make more informed decisions because they take longer and invest more effort in making their decision. “There’s an implicit assumption that we are sadder but wiser,” explains Andreas Wilke, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., and a memory and cognition researcher who has tested depressed people’s decision-making abilities.
- You learn how to cope. The process of finding your way out of depression may help you become better at coping. The problem, Thomson says, is that many people initially choose disastrous coping mechanisms. “Drinking won’t help a fishhook in your hand and it won’t help depression,” he says. Poor coping choices will just compound your troubles. Instead, work with your therapist to learn the coping skills you need.
- You have better relationships. Some people find that depression is a wake-up call for prioritizing what’s important in their lives. “Most of the things that involve depression are interpersonal problems,” says Thompson. Pay attention to what you learn from depression, and use it to make your relationships better. In addition, research suggests that depressed people actually have greater sensitivity to social dynamics.
- You’re more compassionate. According to some experts, depression may help you gain a deeper sense of compassion for others going through tough times.
- You buck stress. Depressed people spend a lot of time trying to figure out what went wrong, and through this process, with the help of a therapist or others, they can learn how to avoid or manage future stressful situations.
- You’re a realist. Research suggests that depressed people have a more realistic understanding of when they have control in situations than people who are not depressed. They also seek out negative feedback about their performance. The upside? A sensible view of situations and the people in them.
- You can detect deception. Sniffing out a lie can be tricky, but people who are depressed seem to be better at knowing when someone is deceiving them. Chalk it up to the enhanced social awareness and a more realistic view of life that seems to come with depression.
“Depression is part of the design of human nature, and just because it’s painful doesn’t mean it’s bad or without its uses,” Thomson says.
A New Way of Treating Depression?
Could this new understanding of depression lead to new ways of treating depression? According to Paul Andrews, PhD, a researcher at the Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics in Richmond, the traditional approaches of medication or therapy to distract or reduce depressive rumination could actually derail this natural process. “The next generation of talk therapy has given up on changing the way patients think,” he says. “Instead, it is helping them accept their thoughts.”
Mindfulness-based therapies and even expressive writing seem to be more effective in managing depression than treatments that seek to change the way you think. “You have a quicker response and reduced risk of relapse,” says Andrews.
Still, if your quality of life is significantly impaired — for example, you can’t eat or sleep, or your relationships are floundering — or you start to believe suicide is a solution to your problems, seek help. With the guidance of your doctor or therapist, you can both treat your depression — and learn how to reap its benefits.
By Madeline Vann, MPH
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
Taken from http://www.everydayhealth.com/
All content on this website is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. Always consult your own GP if you’re in any way concerned about your health.
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