Hope for the helplessly depressed

My therapist pointed out to me that in therapy, “You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

Quynh Nguyen

We’ve all had a depressed friend who seemed to choose poor options that fed their unhappiness. You know, the friend who chooses bad people to have relationships with or the one who medicates their pain with sleeping, partying or procrastination. Their grades and self-esteem suffer and they can’t seem to do anything right.

You can’t make these friends happy, no matter what you do. You can pepper them with compliments until your nose turns brown, but none seem to take. What is with these self-absorbed, inconsolably depressed people? Why can’t they just stop being so darn emo?

The short answer is that they’re so unhappy they screw everything up (including the acceptance of compliments). The long answer is that they’re in so much pain that they can’t see straight, think straight, or take in anything that does not confirm what they already know or feel.

It’s hard to watch these friends as they slowly circle the drain, dropping out of college or picking up self-destructive habits. It’s even harder not to get so fed up that you leave them, taking your sympathy with you.

Is there any help or hope for these people? Is there anything that a friend can do, other than to stand by as their loved one falls further and further away? Or is all hope lost, because no one is able to change anything?

I was once one of these people who could not get out of their depression no matter how hard they tried. In spite of how disabling depression was, I still saw it as an imaginary state, one that I could break out of if only my mind and spirit were strong enough.

That I was depressed for most of my life told me that I was weak and undeserving of happiness. I tried to become stronger to defeat this invisible enemy, but no matter how hard my efforts, depression always won in the end. It struck where I was the most sensitive and least protected – my self-esteem.

Eventually I reached a point where I had lost all hope, had tapped out all the help of my family and friends, and recognized the futility of my efforts against depression. Life did not seem worth living.

It was at that point that I finally called Boynton Health Service and got in touch with the help there. After a month of counseling, I am living life without depression. A month is a flyspeck of time compared to the years I have spent combating depression by myself.

Why did it take me so long to get help? Like most people, I thought that depression could be “willed away” and fixed by one’s self. Another reason was that I was skeptical that I needed help; I didn’t think that my life was so bad that I needed outside help.

The biggest reason was that I had believed that therapy was touchy-feely fluff that would only mollify the depression, not make it go away. Or, if it did make the depression go away, it would only be as long as one was in therapy, so you’d have to be in therapy forever to live depression-free.

All those reasons are wholly false. Therapy has a definite endpoint – when it no longer provides benefit to the individual. Anyone suffering from depression should go seek counseling, no matter the cause of the depression or how insignificant the problem seems. Some kinds of depression can be defeated by strength of will, but you might as well get a third party to maximize your success.

My therapist pointed out to me that in therapy, “You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.” In therapy, the only thing I lost was my loserdom.

Quynh Nguyen welcomes comments at [email protected]