As a therapist who specializes in treating depressed adolescents, I find that parents often challenge me. They cannot understand why their teen is helplessly depressed, or why their child isn’t motivated to engage in activities that their peers find enjoyable.
“She has nothing to be depressed about — she has a great family and good grades, and is smart and pretty!” a parent will say, or, “He has nothing to sulk about — he has everything a kid would want.”
Similarly, the common stigma around adults with depression is that if you have a job, good pay, a spouse, beautiful children, and a white-picket-fence lifestyle, there should be nothing holding you down. But the reality is that depression is like an uncontrollable beast seeking whomever it can apprehend — regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, or culture.
In The Mood Repair Toolkit, David Clark successfully normalizes depression and shows how it does not discriminate based on age or circumstance. In one case study, Clark describes a woman named Joan who has been quite resilient throughout her sixty-six years of life. However, she has struggled with keeping depression from completely taking over. She takes antidepressants but still has occasional feelings of emptiness — plus a fear that her depression will cripple her again.
Then, Clark describes Todd, a much younger college student who also struggles with depression, despite that he does well in school, has some financial security, and has steady interpersonal relationships.
What could possibly be causing these two individuals, who appear quite well off, to feel depressed and hopeless? And why does it affect them so deeply?
For outsiders, it can be difficult to understand the crippling affects that the condition has on the mind and the spirit. As a clinician, I regard depression as a psychological, emotional, and physiological condition because it affects your thinking and your outlook on life, your ability to emotionally cope with things, and your body — often causing headaches, aches, and pains. Depression is a full-body condition.
Clark makes it clear that the problem is not so much that you feel blue on some occasions, but that the extent to which you feel blue is out of proportion to the circumstance. In other words, it is the intensity, duration, and appropriateness of your feelings that creates the problem.
Many sufferers will describe their intense feelings of sadness as frequent and long-term, or as chronic and impenetrable by moments of happiness. Clark’s book is meant to teach them about their own symptoms — such as negative thought patterns, negative perceptions of life, and lack of motivation — and help them find ways to cope.
Antidepressants and other medications are also important for individuals suffering from resistant and chronic depression, especially when the condition has led to thoughts of suicide, or even suicide attempts. But medication is not the only remedy for depression. In fact, it is only when you combine talk therapy or Cognitive Behavior Therapy with medication that you can really fight it off. Clark highlights this very important point by offering easy to understand tools for daily use.
At the beginning of the book, Clark emphasizes something else quite important: that depression is a normal experience for human beings, and shouldn’t be viewed as a sin or personal failing.
Much of society looks negatively upon those who are depressed, those who feel hopeless, those who have no motivation and who cannot improve their mood. But Clark writes that, in some ways, “sadness may enable us to better accept the losses in our lives, reconsider our life goals and values, and strengthen connections with others.”
While it is important not to encourage people to view their depression as a positive thing, it is equally important to show them that they are not an abnormal species experiencing an abnormal state of being. Depression is a very real human experience that many of us will go through. If you have not yet experienced depression, you are likely to at some point in your life. It is a statistical fact.
Luckily, the tools Clark describes throughout the book are very useful: recognizing your triggers, silencing your inner critic, and decreasing your avoidance behavior, among others.
But perhaps what stands out most about the text is its emphasis on normalization. You are not a bad person or a freak just because you are depressed. And just because your life looks good from the outside does not mean you’re exempt.
That’s a key thing to remember — whether you’re the sufferer or their parent.
The Mood Repair Toolkit: Proven Strategies to Prevent the Blues from Turning into Depression
The Guildford Press, July 2014
Paperback, 292 pages