The hopelessness and pessimism associated with depression

Family members and friends often find that one of the hardest parts of being close to a depressed person is that nothing seems to help. In our practices, we have heard time and time again from family members who complain that the depressed person turns away all offers of support, both advice and emotional reassurance. Given the depressed person’s experience of feeling bad, relatives are perplexed that the depressed person rejects support that might help her feel better.

Research has shown that depressed people do reject support more often and more consistently than nondepressed people. They are more likely to tell someone close to them that their advice will not help or that the other person does not understand what they are going through. In contrast, nondepressed individuals are more likely to tell someone close to them that they are grateful for the person’s emotional support. There seems to be something inherent in being depressed that leads people to turn away help, yet the research does not suggest that depressed people do not want help. In fact, the evidence is strong that depressed people seek help more frequently than nondepressed people.

Research has shown that depressed individuals are more likely to engage in indirect support seeking, such as withdrawing, sulking, or picking a fight with their partner in order to get support. In contrast, nondepressed individuals are more likely to engage in direct support seeking, such as telling their partner that they need help with something specific or asking their partners opinion about a particular thing.

A second explanation for why depressed people turn away help is that they experience others attempts to help as intrusive and useless because of cognitive distortions. Recall that one of the symptoms of depression is the tendency to interpret things negatively. As a result, the depressed person may be pessimistic and believe that her problems are all too encompassing to be helped by anyone. She thinks that nothing can alleviate her distress, so why bother listening to someone else’s advice? The hopelessness and pessimism associated with depression make seeking support from others seem futile. Many depressed people have told us that they appreciate the support from their friends or family but believe that it’s not going to help them feel better. They are locked into thinking that nothing will help.

  • pg. 148, When Someone You Love Is Depressed – Laura Rosen & Xavier Amador, ISBN 978-0-684-83407-8
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