I was watching a random clip of Jordan Peterson today talking about the different types of depressed people. Essentially, you have:
- People who are not living a life of general well-being and feel depressed.
- People who are living a life of general well-being, yet still feel depressed.
This was, at first, striking to me, as I have certainly had times in my life where I have felt depressed, yet I had never thought that it was possible to feel depressed when your life wasn't actually depressing. This prompted me to then question whether I had actually ever been truly depressed. As far as I've ever been able to discern, feeling depressed is a biological and completely natural evolutionary response to suboptimal living conditions. Essentially, if your brain senses that you currently aren't "fit" enough to have great enough well-being mate as successfully as needed, it will make you feel depressed in order to give you more motivation to seek out ways to improve. This is in the same way as if your brain sensed that you had just lost your dog, it would enter into a state of alertness to help you go out and find him. Note here that I use the phrase "feeling depressed", as it is becoming more apparent to me that this is a separate phenomenon than actually being in a state of clinical "depression", at which point more medical/therapeutic attention would be warranted and valid.
Jordan rightly says that if you are experiencing a problem in life, like for example not having a job or any kind of stable income, that it is an "actual problem and not a pathological problem". It is very important to identify which depressive feelings in your life are due to actual problems and which are not, because treating depression caused by actual problems with simply therapy or antidepressants is likely to either not work at all or cause even more problems, likely furthering depression. I think it's for this reason that so many people complain that talk therapy does nothing for them. Perhaps they simply need to do something more low-level and fix an actual problem in their life instead of spend time and money talking to someone. One of Jordan's main themes in his message, as well as a rule in his first book, is "cleaning your room before you criticize the world", and I think that is a brilliant rule to follow. You don't want to get rid of healthy depression, since it's the exact feeling that tells you that something productive needs to be done to increase your well-being in life.
"Psychiatric diagnosis often gets wrong" an important concept, says Peterson: How to work with "depressed" patients. "If someone comes to me and they're depressed...so they're not sleeping properly, they feel terrible in the morning, they don't have a lot of energy, they're having a hard time experiencing positive emotion, it's difficult for them to move, um and they have a lot of negative thoughts about the past and the present and the future...I do an analysis of their life." And that analysis goes something like this:
- Do you have a job that you don't hate going to every morning?
- Do you have an intimate relationship that is basically functional?
- Do you have some friends?
- Is your relationship with your family members alright?
- Are you reasonably healthy (apart from the depression/feeling depressed)?
- Do you have interesting things to do that aren't related to your job/career?
And if the answer to all of those questions is "yes", and yet the person still feels depressed, he/she is indeed clinically depressed. Jordan goes on to say that the people who are depressed while being in a state of general well-being are the ones who respond well to antidepressants, which makes sense. Previously I had a slightly confused, uninformed and vaguely negative opinion of people who use antidepressants, but this put the idea into new light. There is a portion of the nervous system devoted to subconsciously determining how your level of status compares to others, and reporting that to your conscious mind in order to help you make decisions, as well as regulate your emotions. This "status comparator", however, when not calibrated to report your actual status, can cause unnecessary feelings of depression, and it is in this situation where it makes sense to treat the depression medically with antidepressants. He says the reason for this misalignment of the "status comparator" could be due to factors such as personality traits like being high in negative emotion, or a learned response to be more sensitive to any sign of failure caused by traumatization earlier in life.
So, make sure that if you ever feel depressed, that it is indeed depression, before seeking medical treatment. If you simply feel depressed due to suboptimal living conditions, you will be better off actually taking steps to better your life, rather than taking pills. Jordan's two books "12 Rules for Life", and "12 More Rules for Life" are a great place to start. Yes, much of what is said is obvious at first read, and you don't have to agree with his politics. However, it will help you to better understand the deep reasons why the concepts ("obvious" rules) are of great importance, and when you understand how we work and how to improve as a person, you are much less likely to fall victim to the psychological plague of which humans far too often do. It's also a great idea to generally study how the brain functions, the debate on free will, our physiology (hormones and hormonal responses, for example) and behavioral psychology.