Psychotherapist John-Paul Davies explains what depression is, how it can feel, the self-help steps that help and why working with a therapist could open up a much-needed conversation
Every person reading this article will have some sort of relationship to the concept of depression. Whether that’s through lived experience, witnessing the depression of a friend or loved one or questioning if the tough time they are currently going through themselves, is in fact depression.
As Psychotherapist John-Paul Davies explains on Happiful’s podcast, while the initial route for diagnosing depression should be through a visit to your GP or a Psychiatrist, depression is a condition he encounters regularly in his practice. He’s eager to share how common it is and to underline the constant possibility for change and a different way of being.
“Depression is very understandable based on our physiology, our environments, the media and the type of world we live in. It’s a very human response to somebody’s early life, to current circumstances and grief,” John-Paul notes.
“There are most definitely ways we can move through it, albeit it’s a gradual process, but never think that because of what’s happened in the past that you can’t change in the present. There’s always hope and things that we can do to help ourselves.”
So what is depression?
“I would say that as human beings, we’re at our happiest when we’re in the middle band of feelings, which you might describe as ‘calm and alive’,” John-Paul explains. “However, it’s not always possible for human beings to be in that place. If we go above that ‘calm and alive’ band we might be overly aroused, fearful or angry. If we fall below, then we can feel hopeless, helpless, apathetic and in despair. There can be a lack of physical movement that goes with that feeling too. And I think for me, depression is a situation where somebody has a tendency to fall below ‘calm and alive’.”
The impact of depression, he notes, can be far-reaching too. “Depression can have a profound adverse impact, unfortunately on all areas of life for people,” John-Paul shares. “But there can be a range of depressive experiences, some people experience it mildly while, for other people, it’s something that’s been around clinically quite severely for months or even years in their lives.”
What can you do to help yourself?
As well as seeking support from your GP, John-Paul explains that there are multiple ways in which we can start to help ourselves move through a depressive period.
Connecting with your thoughts
“Become conscious of your thoughts and the types of beliefs that you have about yourself and others. It’s been said that depression is an inability to construct a future, so start to question this. What is it that you would want from the future? Vision boards can help (although I know some people will roll their eyes at this!)
“Paying attention to your thoughts can really help as people with depression will compare themselves less favourably than others. Depression can distort our perceptions of ourselves and others, it can make us feel like we are not doing well, but all human beings struggle.”
Connecting with your feelings
“Often people experiencing depression will have disconnected from their bodies too. Improving the mind-body connection is important. Make your body feel good, try massage, warm showers, cold baths – all the things that can regulate your nervous system and put you in that ‘calm and alive’ place.
“There are lots of other things we can do to regulate the nervous system; handholding, hugs, petting an animal, a walk in nature even for a relatively short period of time can be helpful for lifting depression. Nature has that inherent sense of being calm and alive that does tend to be regulating for people.”
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo
“Using your imagination to make something rather than to imagine the worst outcomes can be really helpful. This doesn’t have to involve going out into large groups of people or spending lots of money. It could be writing, art, thinking about how you’d decorate a room in your home. Creativity is so important.”
“An important way through depression is via relationships. Cultivate relationships with others, notice the effect that people have on our minds and bodies. Does it make you feel more alive to be around certain people? Can you lean into that?”
Taking care around media consumption
“Quite a lot of people are spending time looking at the media which is frightening and angering them. The thing that can be reinforcing depression is that they’re not in control of it. That’s where feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can arise. So be careful around the sorts of media you consume.”
How can working with a therapist help?
While there is much we can do to help move ourselves through a depressive state, there will be situations where we need the support of a mental health professional, and this, as John-Paul explains, can be transformational.
“It’s important to have your experience seen and heard,” he explains. “Depression can be deeply ingrained. Therapists can combine acceptance therapy with discussions around compassion, commitment and how things might be different but ultimately the power of just listening to what someone’s saying is crucial for future progress.”
Listen to John-Paul Davies discuss depression
Head over to Counselling Directory for a deep dive into depression and information about professional help and support.
If you need immediate help, you can contact the Samaritans 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 116 123 or email email@example.com.