Almost 16 million American adults experienced at least one major depressive episode within the last 12 months. Included in the diagnostic symptoms list is; feelings of hopelessness. How do we lose hope and how do we get it or get it back?
Depression can be triggered when we must cope with difficult life circumstances that can seem overwhelming: loss of someone we love, the loss of a job, loss of a relationship, loss of our health, etc. Many times we are able to work through what is at first overwhelming to a place of manageability. We use, hopefully, good coping skills and work our way out of feelings of hopelessness toward feelings of hopefulness.
In "Light on the Fringe: Finding Hope in the Darkness of Depression", Drs. Lovejoy and Knopf, discuss depression as a warning system - like a warning light on a car dash that signals something isn't functioning properly and needs to be attended to. They have found that the majority of cases of depression are due to relational causes, with the minority of cases being due to biological or genetic causes. Biological and genetic cases are addressed with a primarily medical source of treatment.
From Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
Depression is a condition in which a person feels discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated, or disinterested in life in general. When these feelings last for a short period of time, it may be a case of "the blues."
But when such feelings last for more than two weeks and when the feelings interfere with daily activities such as taking care of family, spending time with friends, or going to work or school, it's likely a major depressive episode.
Major depression is a treatable illness that affects the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and functions. Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. In 2014, around 15.7 million adults age 18 or older in the U.S. had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year, which represented 6.7 percent of all American adults. At any point in time, 3 to 5 percent of adults suffer from major depression; the lifetime risk is about 17 percent. As many as 2 out of 100 young children and 8 out of 100 teens may have serious depression.
(Learn more about depression, read the full article.)
There are times when “pulling ourselves up by our boot straps” just won’t work - we can’t even see the straps. With persistent and enduring feelings of emptiness, inability to concentrate, irritability and depressed physical symptoms, we may need to seek the help of others. These others may be friends, family, faith community members, and mental health professionals, including medical providers. An antidepressant may be prescribed for a relatively short time, 6-12 months for Situational Depression, or may be prescribed long term to treat unremitting deficiencies in chemical production or chemical up-take in our brains. (You may wince at the thought of long term prescription use for mental health issues but 70% of Americans take some type of medication for physical health issues/deficiencies so I, with many others, would like for the stigma associated with treating brain chemistry deficiencies to end). Living without hope can be fatal - please seek help.
Gaining hope is a key component in recovery and managing depression. Here is an acronym of HOPE, a simple tool you may want to include in your well-being toolbox to help in combating depression. It’s simple but not easy. Some days it’ll be a fight to survive but if you can do even one of these you’ll be working your way toward winning the battle.
H - honesty
O - optimism
P - perseverance
E - engagement
Honesty - Define the problem. Try not to over-generalization. For example the over-generalized pronouncements of "work is terrible", "no one cares about me”, "the sky is falling”.... Define the problem. Name it, "I work too many hours", "I haven't spent time with friends lately", "the world is a mess" (OK, that’s still pretty general). Consider the problem and how you can impact it. What is one thing you could do if you work too many hours? Can you prioritize more effectively, delegate, not succumb to the tyranny of the urgent? If you haven't had much time with those you care about - reach out. Be a friend to get a friend. There are some things in this world that are a mess. There are also some things that are going well. What can you impact? Support a cause perhaps? If the sheer amount of negative information is overwhelming and increases your anxiety to an unpleasant level - limit the amount of time you experience negative information. Yes, I said it. Turn off notifications and set a time without screens or podcasts - create a personal space boundary of peace and limit contact with what you consider to be the mess of the world. Honestly look at the problem, define it and decide what you can do to impact it.
Optimism - Identify some thing that is working - anything. Be thankful for at least one thing and then identify why you are thankful for it . Some thing is going well. Be grateful. Identify one thing that you can imagine being successful, or accomplishing, in the future. Defined, optimism is hopefulness or confidence about the future. Synonyms are hope, confidence, buoyancy, cheer... I'm partial to buoyancy. I picture bobbing and bobbing sounds fun.
Large bodies of water are scary to me-its the unknown. A buoy is anchored by some means out in a depth where the bottom isn't visible. The unknown. Much like the future of (?) - you name it. Buoys are designed to stay afloat no matter the weather above or the current below. Waves may wash over and even submerse the buoy for a time but it will rise (bob) to the surface - where they are designed to be. (I think we are designed to be buoyant)
Perseverance - Just keep on keeping on. I know some days this seem impossible. It seems impossible in some situations to even think it. Our hurt, our loss, our grief, our disappointment, dare I say - our failure - is too much to bear. When life is unmanageable one day at a time - make it more manageable. Maybe an hour or maybe even a minute is all you see of the future and maybe then you don't like what you see. I think there are times when, I know this is out of vogue, but you just do the right thing. Perhaps just the next right thing. I've experienced loss when I told someone, “if you asked me what my heart feels like right now – I’d say hamburger”. Ground up and raw. Nothing held together, not a healthy muscle, not functioning. Just there and raw.
At that time I just did the next right thing. I identified the next thing to be done. Then I did it. Sometimes that’s all we can do. You may not even remember doing it but that doesn't matter. It’s the doing that matters for you.
Engagement - This may be with others in relationship, focusing on a project with your team at work, or deciding you will work to accomplish a specific task. Focus on something other than you. If you're a person of faith engaging and participating in your faith practices and community can be extremely beneficial. When I think of engagement it’s about engaging me with others or me with well, something outside of me. I connect or engage with something outside of me. I know I don't have all the answers so why would I keep ruminating (me in my own thoughts - think stewing) for an answer that is not there! Engagement can help me connect the dots with the additional information or care I gain from others.
When I make it through a day that is evidence, proof, that I CAN MAKE IT THROUGH A DAY. This can help me tomorrow - if I'm honest about identifying the issue, optimistic about the result/solution, determined to persevere even when its hard, and I engage with others/something outside of me (including professionals), I can grow in HOPE and hope helps me in learning to live life well!