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(Inspired by Mohammed’s chat with Mac)

Thank you for your invitation to chat – I have not been ignoring you, just new to Google+ and keep losing my way around it. You asked for my thoughts on depression – here are some.

I have been working with depression for nearly thirty years. One thing I can say for certain after all of my research, unless it is a result of some sort of brain damage or physical anomaly, it is actually a healthy response to situations in which a person’s needs are habitually being ignored.

Now needs are subtle things – of course there are the obvious ones, like water and food, warmth and shelter. But there are more needs which we are trained from birth to ignore through the ways we are treated by those who are responsible for our needs being met in the first place. It’s a tough time, the start of life outside the body of our mother. We have a single language (“Waaaaaahhhhhhhhh”) and absolutely no ability to keep ourselves alive let alone ensuring we are loved.

We form beliefs about ourselves – beliefs without words (really hard ones to shift when you can’t talk about them) based on how we are treated. Positive attention to our needs legitimises them and negative or no attention illegitimises them (is that a word?). We learn from this process in the same way you learn to catch a ball, not through words but through experience, a) who and what we are, b) what we should expect from others and c) how to adjust our self-expression, to get by at all costs, to avoid being abandoned.

You see, when you are totally dependent for all your needs on others, abandonment means death. At birth we are programmed to survive and we have little ability to process thought or reason as the large cerebral cortex is undeveloped. A fully developed brain would not fit down the birth canal (bit of a squeeze as it is!) and this is what means that all our young have to be supported through the early years.

Bowlby calls these early beliefs “Internal Working Models” of self, others and self with others. These beliefs are what we call “meta-schematic beliefs” – they are powerful beliefs which are unconsciously held as factual, and they organise (schematise) our behaviours – including our ‘need-meeting’ behaviours. As we say here – Chocolate will never hold you while you cry – only being held while you cry feeds the hunger to be held while you cry. As we grow, our needs become increasingly complex, but our need-meeting behaviours remain frozen by the inner laws of the meta-schematic belief and this can have puzzling and self-defeating results.

Now, put a plant in the wrong soil and it gets depressed. The difference between the plant and the human is that we are likely to be in the wrong soil, be feeling wrong for doing so badly in it and constantly trying all sorts of things to convince ourselves that if were just a little bit more educated, better looking, intelligent, happier, richer (and on and on and on)…..it just becomes evidence that there is something wrong with us and we’d better just keep quiet about it.

The medical model unfortunately promotes the idea that depression is a mental illness and using powerful medication intervenes in the delicately balanced and subtle biochemistry of the mood centres of the brain (serotonergic). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which is released when the environmental stimuli are present which feed wellbeing. If the relevant stimuli are not, serotonin is not released. It is not the person’s fault that they do not produce serotonin when the conditions of their lives do not support them – the cause is in the environment! It is right that they do not produce it – there’s a lesson in it.

Even people who have low serotonin levels benefit from managing how their environments meet their needs. Also serotonin is essential in reading the quality of your environment – it is a tool for accurate perception – if you mess it up then you lose this essential faculty. The soil remains the same and the situational cause continues to deny satisfaction. Mick Jagger knew all about it!

People need help in identifying their :-

  • meta-schematic beliefs and default behaviours
  • deepest unmet needs and
  • ability to self-parent

They need to learn some self-parenting skills to start organising their relationships to support them thriving rather than accepting that there is something wrong with them which means they should settle for what they get. They then need to be able to adjust as they go along. This is what EMSRP is all about. That and a couple of other key platform insights for thriving – they are for another day.