When depressed is caused by nothing at all

I have an interesting question for those of you out there who suffer from depression: What do you do when your depression is caused by nothing at all?

There are times – and I suspect that this is for everyone, not just folks who have depression problems – where I get depressed for no reason.  At least, none that I can think of.  I remember my therapist once telling me that there was always something lurking around in the back of my mind somewhere.  That depression is almost never caused by “nothing.”  I suspect that he is right, and that makes it even more frustrating.

I’d argue that this can often be worse than feeling miserable for reasons that you can identify.  Obviously, that depends on the reason you are down, but if there is a reason behind a depression or sadness issue…well, then you can actually deal with it.  When there’s no reason, it’s harder to grasp.  In instances like these, fighting depression is like pushing smoke.  It just can’t be done.

On instances like this, I come back to a conversation I had in a psychology class when I was in college:


Ahh, yes, the glass half full.  But, this one comes with a different spin.

I once had a Muhlenberg professor describe mental illness as a combination of genetics and environmental factors.  This is a vast oversimplification, of course, but hear me out.  Let’s say that the water already in the glass is your genetic predisposition to depression.  Additional water gets poured in as a result of environmental factors and other stressors, and when the glass overflows, bam, you are depressed.

In this metaphor, people who aren’t predisposed to depression are less likely to be depressed, but that’s because they have less water in the glass to begin with.  Those people can still get depression, but it’s gonna take a heck of a lot more water (life stressors) to get them there.  For others who have a history of depression or a genetic predisposition, it only takes a little bit of water to get the glass overflowing.

I agree with my psychologist – it’s never really nothing.  It’s always something – maybe something you don’t want it to be, maybe something you are ashamed or embarrassed by, but there is usually something bouncing around in your head which is going to push you over the edge into a depressive funk.

So, here’s my advice: When it’s nothing at all – when you are depressed, but have no idea why, try to ask yourself what’s truly on your mind.  Work?  Family?  School?  As best you can, within your own head, ask yourself those questions.  Create a judgement free zone and allow your heart and your head to tell you what’s really up.  I hope this doesn’t come across as new-agey mumbo-jumbo, but as helpful advice.  Sometimes, the best way to get yourself feeling better is to ask yourself the right question – even if you don’t really want to know the answer.

I hope this is helpful, and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts – for this one more than most!

2 thoughts on “When depressed is caused by nothing at all

  1. Mike,
    The illustration used in this post makes great sense! Predisposition to depression and stressors on top of it make that glass fill up rather quickly. You offer some great points about asking questions of oneself and creating a judgment free zone! That zone can be hard to attain but is doable and does lead to a pathway of clarity for the heart and mind to communicate with each other. Mindful breathing helps me to ask the questions.

    Thank you for your continued insights…very helpful!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s