Depression and resilience

This is a topic that is near and dear to me: The concept on resilience and mental health.

One of the things that I try to talk with people about when it comes to mental health is the concept that you cannot just “power your way through” it.  I mean, when you’re depressed, you can’t just “man up” or “pray it away,” right?  If you are depressed, and you cross that magical clinical threshold, you need professional help.  This is part of the mantra of countless professionals and experts in this arena – go get help if you need it, and don’t be stupid and think that you can defeat depression on your own.

And yet….

Most estimates say that 1 in 5 Americans experienced a “mental health condition” over the past year.  That number is very high – I’d argue higher than most Americans realize.  But, as high as it is – it still means that 4 in 5 Americans don’t have a mental health condition.  That, obviously, begs this question: Why?

That’s a broader topic than a layman like me can tackle in a 750 word blog entry.  There are, of course, countless reasons, including genetics, living situations, access to health care and more.  But, for now, there’s one topic I want to explore: The concept of resilience and mental health.

Resilience, as it pertains to mental health, is defined by the American Psychological Association as, “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.” The APA website I link to contains a variety of information on the concept on resilience, including how to build it.

Why do I mention it now?  Well, being resilient, as it pertains to mental health, seems an awful lot like “powering through” a difficulty.  If someone is resilient, doesn’t that mean that they have the ability to get through a mental health challenge?  Is it then possible to “tough it out” and avoid professional help?  And, conversely, is someone who just isn’t resilient enough just lacking a fundamental trait?

I think the above paragraph is pretty thought provoking, mainly because it sort of flies in the face of everything that those of us who are on anti-stigma campaigns preach.  We tell people to not allow the depression to win – if you are suffering, seek professional help.  And yet, if you can just be “resilient” enough, is it possible to get through your mental illness without needing help?

Interestingly, the APA website provides a perfect answer for that question.

The rest of the page has some subheaders, such as “Staying flexible,” “Learning from your past,” and “10 ways to build resilience.”  In other words…how to learn it.

Resilience, or the process of basically facing down’s life challenges, is vital to keeping yourself from being overwhelmed and slipping into depression, anxiety or addiction.  There’s also this amazing metaphor:

To help summarize several of the main points in this brochure, think of resilience as similar to taking a raft trip down a river.

On a river, you may encounter rapids, turns, slow water and shallows. As in life, the changes you experience affect you differently along the way.

In traveling the river, it helps to have knowledge about it and past experience in dealing with it. Your journey should be guided by a plan, a strategy that you consider likely to work well for you.

The river is life, and resilience is the boat.  Sometimes, the river can be so strong that it can overwhelm the strongest craft.  Other times, the boat can be leaky or fail to float for any number of reasons.

Here’s the crux of my entry: Resilience is unquestionably important when it comes to mental health.  But, it can’t be viewed as some magical skill that just exists or doesn’t, and that’s it.  It should be viewed as a critical component to any coping strategy, and a skill that can be both taught and learned.  With resilience, someone can get through life.  And someone can be taught the resilience to get through life and a mental health challenge…with therapy.

Does this make any sense?  I sure hope so.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts – please comment below and tlel me if you think I am dead on or have lost my mind – more than usual!


4 thoughts on “Depression and resilience

  1. Hi Mike, I am in totally agreement. Stigma and “fortitude” keep many people from seeking help and if and when they finally do because life has become so unbearable, they deal with friends, family members, employers who wonder why their lives one just can’t will himself/herself to get well.
    As a therapist in private practice I witness this struggle many times.
    Resiliency to me means accepting the issue, reaching out to people who can help, and believing you can heal. If you are not able to access that belief yourself at first, partner with someone
    who can believe that for you until you can begin to believe it yourself. It takes courage to reach out. Thank you
    Mike for your openness.


    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      I LOVE that definition of resilience. It’s an interesting and complicated balance, to put it politely. Thanks for commenting – hope you hear from you in the future!


  2. Mike, I only have some answers. Thank you for your comments. I am sharing with a friend who deals with depression with whom I speak every day. At least we can be honest about how we are doing. I also do medication, therapy from time to time, and do active jedi mind tricks to help keep myself on track. All of this helps, but as you say, mental illness is always running in the background. It’s a challenge. Could it be that the other 4/5ths of people are doing something else damaging to themselves that luckily has kept them from depression but has another side effect? Like electing Republicans? One of my theories that people with mental illness, besides have a genetic predisposition, are very honest about things. Too honest, maybe.


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