Why Do People Become Depressed?

There is a lot in this world we can’t control. And there are things we can. Think of the serenity prayer:

“God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”




Psychologists hypothesize that depression ensues when we believe we don’t have control over any of the situations in our lives.

Most people find themselves feeling stuck in a relationship or a job or a living arrangement that causes them more pain than gain at least once. So, they take action to get themselves out of it. They start looking on Craigslist for new apartments. They start saving money to enroll in school to learn a different trade. They get a mediator to work through the problems with their significant other or leave the relationship if it's too toxic. They recognize they are unhappy in a situation and work to take the steps needed to change it.

Martin Seligman Ph.D. conducted experiments in helplessness and depression in 1967, alongside another psychologist Norman Maier.  These experiments led him to the conclusion that the amount of control a person believes they have in their life is based in past experience.  

When a person fails or is gridlocked over and over again, they start to believe they don’t have control over situations when they actually do.

They surrender entirely to fate, when creating a destiny is what we are here to do. 

Fail enough and you become passive. You start to lack aggression - the good kind, the kind that gives you mojo. You stop trying to learn from your mistakes. You stop experimenting with new avenues to achieve your goals. You withdrawal from your friends, thinking the world would be better off without you.

Part of this starts with having realistic goals.

Life is already hard. If we set the bar too high and set out to change unchangeable things, like shifting global society out of a capitalistic paradigm by next Tuesday, we will fail (and maybe end up with jail time).

In a 1996 study by Hersh, Stone, & Ford, third graders with and without documented learning disabilities were given a test above their reading level. Both groups failed. Of course! It was designed so they would. Researchers, however, found that the group with learning disabilities displayed a significantly more difficult time recovering, because they had been told before they were faulty by design.

Identifying with failure can lead to more failure.

This is especially true with people who have to deal with the adversity of mental illness. It's easy for your confidence to get shot. It's easy to feel like you have no control over yourself or any situation, because you don't know how to control your thoughts or your mood or your behaviors at this moment. 

Studies show people become depressed when we attribute loss of control to causes that are:

  1. Permanent rather than temporary

  2. Related to factors within one’s personality

  3. Pervasive across many areas of their life

It’s easy to think you’re a square peg in a round hole. It’s easy to think that rejection is just happening to you. It’s easy to take people personally. That's easy. 

What’s not easy is having the fortitude to keep getting up, over and over again, and believing in your worth and your value and your ability to change what ails you.

Because the truth is, if you keep knocking and trying to improve in earnest, a door will eventually open. A relationship will be healthy. You will find your diamond in a world that feels like a coal mine. If you learn and grow with every move, life will show results for you.

Mental health boils down to resilience. 

How many crows can you eat? 

How many times can you experience hardship without collapsing into an attitude of fatalism? 

Because I'm here to tell you, you can't lose 'em all.

And sometimes, you only need to win once to erase what seems like a lifetime of defeat. 

words by Alison Sher

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