as they make their minds to be."
- Abraham Lincoln
Former President Lincoln directs us to acknowledge agency over our mood. This is tantalizing and powerful and draws us to practices like talk therapy and meditation. We can learn to improve the accuracy of our thoughts. We can learn how to bring ourself to the moment to better accept things as they are, limiting rumination over the past and worry over the future.
I believe humans have a tendency towards dissatisfaction. This serves us when we are driven to push ourselves academically or in our careers. Yet a pattern of returning to a state of dissatisfaction prevents us from appreciating what is currently in our worlds. If driven by wanting more, more, more, rather than a focus on process, we will in fact never be satisfied or content. This is when Former President Lincoln's can really be taken to heart. Disappointment is a frequent companion in this first world, heavily resourced country that is the United States. We can learn techniques to work through the disappointment and associated sadness to best live in the moment and a state of gratitude.
The transformation is not as straightforward when we are looking instead at clinical depression, or schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. People frequently collapse sadness and depression together, (e.g., "snap out of it"). But they are very different beasts. Due to revisions for the Diagnostic Statistical Manual-V, mental health diagnosis is no longer dichotomous: a gradient of severity is included in the assessment. Depression requires at least a two week period when one experiences sadness and/or anhedonia (loss of interest in things usually enjoyed) as well as at least three of several cognitive and behavioral symptoms including feelings of excessive guilt and changes in eating patterns. Depression is not something that can be snapped out of just be changing one's mind on how to approach the day.
That said, cognitive behavioral therapy is found to be an effective treatment for reducing depression symptoms. This requires agency and action on the individual's part. Sometimes the individual doesn't act due to societal stigma towards mental health disorders. It is important to recognize that these disorders can be organic and brain-based. The mental health condition is not the individual's fault and, when neurotransmitter driven, can be treated with a very physical tool: pharmaceuticals.
This post is not an argument for medication over talk therapy. I value the practice of using CBT with my clients. This post is a request for people to think about mental health diagnoses as any other physical condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, where both medication and behavioral choices are key in treatment. The medication might be what helps close that trap door so you don't fall as far and are better able to use cognitive and behavioral tools to cope and interact with your world.