Is there hope for depression?

What is hope and is it the same as ambition? Maybe we can discover what hope can mean when we look where it is lacking; in depression. How does hope disappear when dealing with depression?

Existential hope lacks in depression.

A lack of hope isn’t just a symptom of depression, it seems to be at its very core. The relationship between depression and hopelessness can be approached in different ways. The mainstream consensus would be that people dealing with depression are more prone to make certain thinking errors. In the cognitive approach we argue that the way we think will shape our world. When we think more negatively (ex. Someone you know passing you while not saying hello, can be interpret as the other person not liking us … because we are not likable). In this approach depression can be caused and maintained by this kind of thinking errors. They then will have an effect on our mood. Like my psychiatrist stated that I need to examine why I think in a certain way. Why do I think that I am not capable of this or that and that I need to examine if that thought is even true or if there is even a need to be thinking that way. Hopelessness in depression can be interpret as the whole of negative expectations about oneself and the world. With the help of cognitive therapy one can try to improve mood by managing these negative thoughts.

But what if we turn this around? What if the cause of depression is not situated in the cognitive process but in the mood itself? It is a mood disorder after all. What if we would start from the assumption that the existential hopelessness replaces hope for the future in depression. The fundamental feeling from which cognitions emerge would be a black screen, a big hole that doesn’t reassure you that the sun will rise tomorrow and that you have a chance of a future. You feel lost and are required to live against this fundamental truth that there is no hope.

What is existential hope?

As members of the human race we are capable to experience meaning and lack thereof. We are never ‘neutral’, we interpret things through a broader lens, we give our existence meaning. Things ‘speak’ to us, they evoke a reaction because we are able to see the potential. We hope for the future in everything we do and say. In every breath there is the hope for the next moment. Our brains are wired to contextualize our surroundings.

Our brains are aware of a constant context and meaning. The meaning of things is established by an awareness of possibilities. We anticipate possibilities and this helps us to thrive. When we think of the world as being ‘one’ by proving a context for it, this process will create a certainty through which we can hold on to expectations. We expect that the sun will rise in the morning and that a better day lays ahead. When we think about the future this happens in the background of this certainties. This is our baseline and this gives us hope. This is not the same as being optimistic but it is the mere possibility to be able to think that maybe things will get better.


What happens when we lose existential hope?

The idea that things could become better isn’t grounded anymore in experience or in the thinking process. The future isn’t this horizon of possibilities anymore. When depressed it seems like we don’t belong anywhere. We lose the connection with the world and the people in it which normally would occur rather spontaneously. When losing this connection, we lose the perception of meaningful possibilities. In that regard a depression is more than losing the ability of feeling pleasure (anhedonia). Considering hopelessness as a core factor could lead us to a more significant differentiation between mood disorders.

Hopelessness as a core factor also implies helplessness. When meaning seems to be lacking, so does our ability to be free and to have influence over our lives. Freedom, free will or a sense of self can look very bleak in a world lacking in possibilities. You feel ‘imprisoned’ or in a ‘quarantine in your own mind’.

There is a need to build that bridge between your feelings and possibilities. Having meaningful relationships can provide that bridge. Through contact with others we can see or have a glimpse at our own possibilities that we ourselves can’t see. That is why I believe that shared stories empower people.

Looking at depression through the lens of thinking about a possible future helps us understand how diminishing and expanding possibilities influence depression and recovery. A somber mood or anhedonia would not be the at the core but would be the logical consequence of isolation and existential hopelessness.

Restoring faith in the future and in the ability to see that future is the result of a slow process which can’t be hurried and can’t be forced. To rediscover the world, to open your eyes and see takes time and adjustment; a lot of patience, healing and self-compassion. Depression can be understood as a difficulty to synchronize with the world around us rather than a mood disorder. This desynchronization preludes the symptoms of a depression as anhedonia. Through synchronization with the world around us the question of ‘why’ could dissolve itself and we can become more sensitive to possibilities surrounding us.

This is a post in my series about recovery and it’s five different components. It is a thinking exercise that can from an opposition to the existential crisis which can be felt in depression. It sheds a new light on how recovery is possible on an existential level and its importance.

dewachter-optThis post is very much inspired by an online article, written by Dr Dirk De Wachter and his colleagues.  Dr De Wachter is a famous Belgian psychiatrist and lector. He was born in Wilrijk in 1960. At a certain point he was asked to shed his light on drama’s that did occur like stabbings and shootings. He became more famous after publishing his book ‘Borderline Times’ in which he states that our Western society meets the nine criteria of borderline. Information from Wikipedia in Dutch. Picture by Rob Stevens at DeWereldMorgen. License CC click here.

Resources, credits and additional reading.

Online article (in Dutch). Baert, Van Duppen, De Wachter. (2020). Existentiële hoop: een fenomenologisch leidmotief in het verstaan van depressie? 

Picture 2 credits click here.

24 thoughts on “Is there hope for depression?

  1. I sometimes feel the emotion of hopelessness, but even when that’s not an issue I don’t have hope for the future. There would need to be a significant shift for the future to be positive, and there isn’t any reason to think such a shift would happen.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 🤗 (=hugs minus the big smile)
      I sometimes do have hope for the future but every time my energy goes low and it knocks me back. My doctor told me that I may be enthusiastic and that I may be hopeful, that it can’t deplete my energy levels but it seems like it doesn’t repair itself overnight.
      I hope (!) that a small change can happen, we just don’t know. It is a long process and the outcome is uncertain.
      I found it a good article because the notion of hope was addressed and not everything was explained through symptoms, in some way it made sense to me. Thank you for commenting 🌼

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The arrows all look like a different length to me haha :0)
    This was a great read!
    More and more I’m learning to stay present and to not dwell on the past or the future. The corona virus is a great example, as is the chronic pain issue I’ve been dealing with. These are things I never could have predicted or prepared for.

    I have certainly felt hopelessness many times in life and looking back sharing with others was the most important factor in staying afloat.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve also come to the realization that all the worries I had weren’t considering nor depression nor the virus. It is very much a lesson in letting go and to be humble. Life is precious whatever it may bring us.
      I need to learn to share more of my worries because it really stops the merry-go-round in my head. I’m glad you found it a great read, I guess it’s not the easiest subject but it meant something to me.
      The arrows are fun aren’t they? To me they seem all to point to connect with others as a preventing and healing factor with struggles.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sharing can be difficult, especially if we’ve been taught to hide our emotions and thoughts. Growing up my dad would make fun of me for crying and I’ve had to work so hard at showing emotions other than anger or distance. I grew such a tough exterior from a variety of things, and peeling back all those layers has been tough.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I see, I was told, as I said, to ‘go on’ and not to complain or to even say something. I’m trying now to use more ‘I sentences’ Like ‘I feel that is not funny’ or ‘I feel hurt.’ For me that is a safe way to share my feelings and it doesn’t feel to me like I’m a burden or that I’m attacking the other person. I try to create a safe place to express my feelings as soon as I’m aware of them. It is a whole big lesson to learn!
        I do believe that you’re so sweet behind all those layers, as we all could read in your therapy experiences. Remember all the love you expressed? When we know that we’re a good person, some ‘minor’ feelings as there are frustration and so can come more easily. When your intentions are good, nothing bad can come out of it and nothing ‘evil’ will touch your core. That is how I try to look at things, it only took me a few years to change my feelings about myself!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. “I” statements are life savers 🙂 having a safe place to express feelings is so important. It can take me quite a while to feel safe.

        Thank you for such a kind comment, I do need to remember those sessions. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Two of the arrows look equal to me. I sometimes feel the hopelessness; it often feels like there is no hope. I think because I didn’t sleep last night or today and I’ve spent almost 24 hours trying to fix my blog, together with the increasing deaths due to COVID-19,

    I’m really stressed and burnt out. I’m feeling really sorry for myself and I feel like chuck this damn laptop our the window (12 floors up). Right now I feel jittery, angry, agitated and hopeless — I feel like giving up my blog!

    I know it’s recurrent, reactive depression and dysthymia — right now I hate it all.

    Now I’m hoping when I post this comment, it will be accepted. I’ve written lots of comments on other blogs but it won’t let me post them on lots of blogs, Here goes.

    Caz x.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Caz, your comment arrived loud and clear. No problems at all. 🥳🥳🥳
      I’ve read that a lot of people are having problems with liking and commenting, it was on Renards blog. I hope WP fixes these problems asap and you don’t need to worry about your blog. So hold on to that laptop!
      The Corona virus takes a toll on everybody but all we can do is to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Stay inside as much as possible. I don’t look at the news that much, maybe once in a few days and I stay off of other social media than WP. I hope you can vent your worries and that it will calm down a bit.
      Always welcome on my blog to vent and to share your views!
      Take good care, Kacha x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, okay. Glad it’s not just me having problems with WP – it’s awful though — people will think I’m ignoring them 😦
        Still not slept and I’ve been hallucinating – I know it’s just the tiredness so while’s it’s really not nice, It’s affecting my eyesight so I’m relying on my oldt touch typing lol. I’m not scared. If that all makes sense. Thank you for your support.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. You’re welcome! We need to support each other when we can. You type very well but I do hope you manage to get some hours of sleep or maybe deep rest. I sometimes try to do yoga nidra, which is a kind of deep relaxing almost sleep like yoga. There are apps to find that offer that kind of yoga. Some are a bit scary (you need to imagine things) but others are ok (you need to count and there is no imagining) …. Everything to soften the mind.
        I don’t think people will suspect you of ignoring them. For once everyone is preoccupied with the current situation and maybe they think that you’re hibernating just very well 😁

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you’re on to something with positioning the mood as the starting point rather than the cognition with depression. I find my thoughts generally arise in reaction to my mood, sometimes with a little lag as they consider that mood and what to interpret it as. And, as you say, there is no neutral in human feeling. When I’m truly centered, I can feel and evaluate the mood of each moment, almost down to a texture and taste. So yes, when the mood becomes mired in existential hopelessness, how can it not lead us into cognition patterns that build toward depression?

    I will refrain from guessing on the arrows because my devious brain is too well-acquainted with this kind of question and how to spot the trick in it. 😁

    Liked by 2 people

    1. But refraining from the arrow question also proves my point that meaning is given by the context 🙂
      Evaluating and feeling your mood that clearly, is that something you’ve always being able to do if I may ask. Or is it something you learned along the way? Because the evaluate the mood almost to texture and taste, seems like an expert level to me. I’m curious how to be that centered as I feel that is a very helpful state of being.
      I try to ‘catch’ my mood before the cognition come in and I find this a very helpful approach and with corona I have the time. I believe you need to slow down a great deal to catch on to it.
      I’ve also discovered that people around me feel my mood much quicker sometimes than I realize what is going on, so observing them in a reaction to me, helps me too.
      This inward journey is quite the ride I must say. Thank you for your insightful comments, they do help me a lot!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think the first time I specifically thought about the textures and flavors of a moment was as a teenager. I was really working on developing my writing at that time, and being able to describe those minute details of experience was a skill I sought. These days, I recognize that it’s more effective to evoke the little often external details that together imply the mood. Still, it’s something I find myself trying to mentally capture from time to time.

        I agree, the reactions of other people can help you pick up on mood changes before you’re consciously aware of them. I don’t often realize I’ve become “grumpy,” for instance, without noticing first that other people are giving me “that look.” I wish I could catch it sooner, for their sakes and for mine! 😅

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I think it is a very interesting approach to have some energy and attention to ones surroundings and the correlation to ones mood. I’ve always cut myself out of the equation (as I call it) and payed only attention to others without considering myself. I’m going to learn now how those little external details play into my reactions and mood. Thank you for helping me!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I wish I could tell you how glad I am that I found this amazing piece because reading it somewhere I feel is kind of giving me peace . I have been battling depression since years and recently wrote about my experience with it in form of a poem. I hope you will read it . And also I really appreciate that you shared your thoughts here, I always believe that writing heals you . Take care.

    Liked by 2 people

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