An article appeared on the BBC News website a few days ago that caught our attention. “How Japan Came to Believe in Depression” describes how an entire society came to appreciate the existence and intractability of depression. Just by being exposed to an idea – a way of explaining – depression, thousands of people had a lightbulb moment. The magic happened when depression was characterised as “a cold of the soul”.
Counsellors often provide lightbulb moments for their clients – by explaining something in a way they hadn’t thought of before, or by getting them to see their situation in a different way.
Mo and Toni say: Do we really understand how someone can feel so low if we haven’t been in those depths ourselves? Maybe not, but then “understand” is a big word.
Understand that it is ok to feel sad today. Understand that what others feel is unique.
We don’t have to feel what someone else is feeling in order to understand enough.
We don’t expect to have to feel the pain of a broken leg in order to understand that someone with a broken leg may be in pain. It is enough to appreciate that it must be painful. We can understand enough.
As a counsellor Mo helps some clients by encouraging them to compartmentalise their life, using a door to transition mindfully between the various situations that challenge them. When they walk into the office, they concentrate on the office. They leave their home life, relationships etc outside until they leave. When they go through the door of their house, they leave work outside, and concentrate on family.
Unfortunately the most practical advise for Mo’s clients with depression is often for them to stop expecting the people in their life to understand the anxiety, pain, despair and numbness. Where possible they work on leaving depression at the door. Not the feelings – those are tied to the sufferer – but the idea that they need to be understood in order to function. A worker with diabetes takes it into work with him, but doesn’t need everyone in the office to understand the difficulties of the condition in order to do his work.
Mo helps her clients to identify the people who DO understand. This might be a friend, a priest, a support group. They can accept the idea that today is a bad day – even though nothing out of the ordinary has made it so.
This is obviously not ideal. In a perfect world we would have bosses and co-workers and family members who accept mental illness in the same way they would accept physical illness. As a cold of the soul, perhaps.
As unique and flawed individuals, we are capable of unique and wonderful creativity or empathy or organisation or humour. We have great value BECAUSE of who we are.
But this is not a perfect world. Help your clients work toward their own acceptance of this – and perhaps give them a phrase that might help someone in their life get a handle on what it is to be mentally unwell.