The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease (WHO, 2018). This fact should give us pause: what is going on? What is driving this exponential increase? Prior to the industrial revolution, humans were most concerned with why they were here, searching for meaning and purpose via religion and spirituality. Despite decades of technological and scientific gains, the nagging question of “why are we here” remains unanswered. There is no clear design or purpose, life does not come with a manual. It is up to us, as individuals, to create our own meaning. Many of us attempt to deny or reject reality as it is, often without the awareness that we are doing so. We try to distract using a variety of methods; however, this serves to perpetuate our daily impairment, and can actually increase our suffering.
In school, we learn about mathematics, science, geography, history, but we do not learn about life itself. We are not taught how to grieve, how to understand our feelings, not even how to bear or cope with discomfort. This is a tragedy, and I would argue, one of the driving contributing factors to the significant rise of depression. Most of us are simply not taught how to navigate issues that we all suffer from as human beings. We are not taught how to live in the present moment- how to enjoy the here and now.
I found myself in an existential crisis fifteen years ago. I was feeling stuck in an unhealthy, toxic relationship. I consistently felt angry, sad, disappointed, which was not the person I wanted to be. What I realized (much too late), was that I was grieving the loss of my “happy ever after”. I turned to alcohol and drugs to cope with the bitterness I was drowning in. No matter how much we try to avoid difficult emotions, they always come out, one way or another. I actually experienced a full-blown psychosis- a complete break from reality. Had I known then what I know now, I likely could have prevented the breakdown. Ironically, I have come to value the breakdown I had because it provided me with rich lessons that I will never forget. My breakdown allowed me to make significant changes in my life, including returning to university and following my passion of helping others who are also struggling with realities that come with being human.
We live in a world that cherishes positivity; we are unknowingly encouraged to keep a smile on and business as usual, even when we are not ok. Susan David suggests it is a “tyranny, a tyranny of positivity”. When I hear someone say “just think positive”, I cringe. Yes, we want to have a positive outlook on life, but what if we are stuck in the wrong career? Or an unhealthy relationship? What if we are grieving the loss of a loved one? Do we just carry on, without acknowledging our pain?
Psychotherapy can help you unpack what is ailing you, so that you might in fact, be able to prevent a breakdown, or at the very least, make the best of a breakdown.