· Many of our teens and young adults have experienced some level of depression in their lives. Depression can exhibit as lack of motivation or energy as well as negative thoughts about life and oneself. Some of our participants take daily medications for depression, yet still feel debilitated by it.
What is depression?
Depression can be defined and experienced in various ways. Intuitively, people refer to depression as negative thoughts about self and life, but for most, depression appears more as a blanket of no feelings, lack of joy and motivation, and diminished energy. The toughest part about depression is that it is like a fog, taking away our ability to see clearly and fight back as we have no energy, no hope, and sometimes no motivation to do so. This can sometimes make it difficult for family and friends to help, as the person seems unwilling or uncooperative.
· Our experience tells us that for many who experience depression, it isn't the actual source of their difficulties. These underlying issues can be relational within the family or social environment, ADD, ODD, and many other challenges. These can lead to depression after years of struggles and developing hopelessness and frustration with oneself and the world. We call it Secondary Symptoms, as depression itself isn't a core symptom of the original problem, but like a side effect of it, interacting with the world around us. When depression takes over, it may become difficult to treat the original cause, thus dealing with the depression becomes our first goal. This is also why psychiatrists prescribe depression medication first to allow for psychotherapy to work at the core issues.
· Persistent Depression, sometimes referred to as Treatment Resistant Depression, clouds any positive experiences and takes precedence over other issues in a way that captures our mind like a prisoner. In this case, our mind, being a pattern recognition system, gets trained to see the negative and depressing side of everything through years of conditioning. Psychotherapy typically focuses on the same negative thoughts and ends up reinforcing them rather than eradicating them, just by devoting more time to the source of depression.
· Treatment of persistent depression can be daunting and tricky. Our goal is to steer away from negative talk and focus, while the thought patterns persists. At Free Spirit, after establishing rapport and being engaged in our culture, we are often able to slowly shift thoughts to a more positive focus. It is a long and rigorous process, supported by the group and staff. It is no surprise that an hour a week of therapy just won’t do it. Our daily presence and group conversations, for example, help us challenge negative thought patterns by concrete examples of positive experiences and peer relationships. After concerted efforts for a few weeks, we can observe a shift in the pattern and reflecting on positive experiences and even positive self-talk become more common. Our experience thus far have been quite successful, and the results inspiring, like a breath of fresh air.