Positive thinking, alone, cannot cure depression, despite what many people seem to believe. A mindset that having “happy thoughts” is an instantaneous cure to depression is not only and oversimplification and normalization of the condition; but serves to further agitate the depressed individual. Cognitive treatment is a legitimate part-time treatment, but people with depression don’t have the same control over their mindset as most people do. The DSM-5 lists a symptom of depression is that depression causes people to lose pleasure from daily life. When individuals lose interest in their daily lives or things they would typically enjoy, the depression completely takes over. When the depression clouds people’s thoughts and alters their moods, there is very little that a person can do to improve their condition. Pleasant thoughts aren’t going suddenly change all of that like a magic spell. Besides, a depressed individual should gain control over their mindset (which is hard to do) before they can seek out cognitive treatment and treatment to be an effective solution (in conjunction with other treatment options).
My experience with this situation is very common, which is why I get very worked up when someone decides to tell me “think happy thoughts” or some other variation of the same shtick. I, will often have days where I am down in a depressed funk. I lose all interest in just about everything and feel unexplainably down in the dumps. In these moods, I don’t have the same control over my mental state like when I am not suffering because of my depression. This state of mind doesn’t go away if I imagine happy thoughts of puppies or rainbows or the other cliché examples people recommend to me. These “positive affirmations” only serve to make me feel like I am being rushed to find a ‘cure’ to my problem and that I am lacking in knowledge about my own condition. I often must hold myself back from angrily lashing out at people that my depression isn’t going to be cured by thinking happy thoughts and that depression isn’t like just being sad. Frequently, people’s limited and misinformed knowledge about depression and the fact that many people can mix up feeling sad with actual diagnosable depression are the leading causes behind the common utterance of happy thoughts. Now, I am not dismissing cognitive treatment. In fact, I encourage people to seek out treatment options; but I warn you not to expect instantaneous results. Now, my advice on this issue is relatively simple: take things at your own pace and be understanding. Don’t feel rushed into finding a solution to “cure” your depression because these things take time. It would be more beneficial to you and those around you if you took your time but found a method that worked for you rather than taking the quickest way out and having to redo everything over and over. I personally know how hard it is to be understanding when people are lacking in crucial knowledge yet they think they know better than you about your condition. But patience is key here. Instead of lashing out, I would suggest trying to inform individuals patiently and calmly about your struggle. If it works, then great. If it doesn’t, just know you tried and pay their insistent misinformation no mind since you are the one that knows yourself best.
In the end, depression is a tough situation to be in and it’s okay that people want to help in whatever way they can. But a line should be drawn when that “help” doesn’t help and makes the depressed individual feel misunderstood. But don’t feel bad about telling people that they might be misinformed. People sometimes have to learn about the things they’re getting wrong. One of those things is that depression cannot be cured by happy thoughts.
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