Thoughtful Steps


The whole idea of calling mental health or behavioral problems--like depression, alcohol abuse--a "disease" was to encourage people to stop viewing them with shame. If you view your problems with shame, you'll more likely deny or ignore them rather than "treat" or face them. That's a good point. At the same time, in calling something a "disease" you imply that (1) there's no choice or personal responsibility involved, and (2) somebody else must fix you.

Both of these things are false.

A mental health or behavioral problem can only be fixed by the person who has the problem--with the guidance of a professional, for sure. But guidance is not the same as having something "done to you" like a heart surgeon, for example, works on your heart; or like a medication, for example, eradicates an infection.

Mental health professionals were right to get rid of the shame, but wrong to get rid of personal responsibility and realism. In getting rid of these two things, you do the patient no favors. You help someone by saying, "I care, and I'm here to help you." But it's just as crucial to tell them, "You have to change your thinking and your habits if your life is to improve. I'm here to help you do that. But it's still YOU that has to do it."

Written by Dr. M. J. Hurd

It's best to focus on today, here-and-now, because that's where you have control. Make reference to the past so as to look at what did and didn't work, and why. The purpose of doing so isn't insight for insight's sake, but to solve the current problems. Life isn't just about solving problems, either. It's also about making things better. Sometimes outlook is the problem and we're not even aware of it. Course corrections in attitude can solve problems we didn't know we had. This is particularly true with things such as anxiety and depression. Dwelling on the past and indulging in regrets are about the worst things you can do to yourself emotionally. When you notice either of these happening, distract yourself and change course as quickly as possible. Make a list of ways to do this and grab that list when you find yourself in the realm of regrets. In the end, the only way to address regrets is to tell yourself, "I can't change the past. I can only act in the present and influence the future. The past, if nothing else, can give me insight. That insight makes me more powerful in the present."

Sometimes, depression is what happens when you go too long without a sense of purpose. It’s like the engine light going on in the car when it hasn’t obtained proper maintenance. This is why depression/anxiety and other psychological problems can, in a certain sense, be good -- they tell you that something is wrong. In the car, when the engine light goes on, you don’t say: “I have to keep driving until the light goes off.” Instead, you go for maintenance asap. The same with your depression. You can’t say, “I must cure my depression before I can develop a sense of purpose and a career.” To do so would be to reverse cause-and-effect. You have to start developing and acting on a sense of purpose/ career before you will see your depression start to lift. Don't claim, "It's too hard." Everything worthwhile is hard. Hard isn't the same as impossible.

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