Depression: hope, advice and wisdom


First, many people we talked to wanted to make it clear that they had been severely depressed. That is, they know what it was like to be in absolute despair. Secondly, they stressed they were speaking from experience when they said that recovery from episodes of depression was not only possible, but probable. A woman who had a severe debilitating depression that lasted five years (she was on incapacity benefit all that time) felt qualified to talk about how life could be turned around and be enjoyed. It was pointed out that even though everything can look very bleak while depressed, people mostly recovered from depression, and things do tend to get better over time. Several people with severe depression had not realised early on that recovery was possible (see 'Getting better from depression'). They also said that recovery should be thought of as a gradual process.

Help seeking and giving

'Doing nothing' is probably not going to help. People emphasised that people who are very depressed need to get professional help rather than think they can do it on their own. Even if doctors seemed unable to understand, or provided poor help in the past, they are the first port of call. If nothing else a GP can help with medication and referrals to other professionals (see 'Help with depression: General Practice' and 'Help with depression: psychiatrists & other mental health professionals'). It was recommended that people try to find another doctor if the one they have is unhelpful. If you are not wanting medication, you can get other kinds of help, such as a referral for counselling.

Some also stressed that in a deep depression you need to see a professional without delay, since you are probably not thinking clearly enough to really help yourself. Some emphasised the need to take action if medication was not working after the allotted time (e.g. ask for different medication, get referred to a psychiatrist who has more experience with medication). Several people pointed out that a wider network of help may be available to people in distress than they might at first believe. The advice to those who know a person who is depressed was to listen and offer practical help, including helping the depressed person in completing tasks, helping them to seek professional help, and advocacy. Interview 28 recommended the use of touch, “because when you're perhaps too ill even to speak, then you can be touched”.

Develop a 'recovery attitude'

People recognised that it could be near impossible to think positively while depressed. However, as Interview 24 said, even when depressed, you can still try to cultivate a belief that you will eventually get better. Additionally, as Interview 24 and many others pointed out, the person with depression had to be the person to take responsibility for getting better. Even though others can help, when all is said and done, ultimately it was up to the person to get better.

Several people argued that, once they were feeling well enough, people with depression can help themselves by becoming the expert in their illness. Additionally, although it may seem strange at first, one way of developing a recovery attitude is to 'aim low'. One man in his 30s reconciled himself to “the possibility that my life might be absolutely dreadful”. This actually allowed him to be more positive and helped him in his recovery from a lifelong low mood and episodic depression which finally began to improve several years before he talked to us. Others talked about it as taking “little steps”, e.g. Interview 14 said “do a little thing and win, rather than trying to battle against a huge thing. I'm sure that's the way to do it, easy bites”.

Another example of a recovery attitude is seeing depression as ultimately happening for a reason, and even as being a 'beneficial' way for the mind to protect itself, and ultimately guide you to finding better ways of living.

Last reviewed September 2017.

Last updated October 2012.


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