How to Beat Depression

Generally I avoid therapeutic topics, however I’m making this exception because this one is so misunderstood, and I know a lot about it as patient, convalescent, recoverer, and positive psychologist. I hope this might help you or someone you know, and at the very least it is meant to educate about the true nature of the disease.

Isn’t it ironic that despite depression being the biggest pandemic in the World it still carries a stigma? It’s as if we suspect it stems from a failure of character, courage or strength, and we fear being judged as inadequate. Let’s face it, depression in others isn’t attractive and that doesn’t help the situation. But please just remember the following…

  • Depression is a disease, NOT a weakness
  • In any given year 8-12% and 8.6-10.1% of the UK & EU populations respectively are diagnosed with clinical depression (Office for National Statistics 2001 & British Journal of Psychiatry 2001)
  • The staggering implication of these figures is that statistically we are ALL likely to experience it every 10 years or so.

Clearly then we should be (even) more open and tolerant about it. The truth is that when we suffer a bout of depression most of us find a way to keep going, and that takes enormous courage and fortitude. Those of us that have been there appreciate how much grit that demands and how admirable it is. Seligman calls it “living heroically”. I love that!

So here’s a powerful reframe for you: I’m not depressed, I’m a hero :o)

PLUS there is real hope, real help available. This need not be a career negative thing. The incredibly good news is that studies have shown positive psychology based interventions cure depression in 94% of cases (compared to just below 65% for traditional therapy and drugs). Here are my Ten Top Tips, all evidence based, many helped me personally:

1. What Went Well. End every day by writing in a journal three things that went well that day, however small or apparently insignificant

  • Say why it went well – this is time to praise yourself
  • Record how that makes you feel
  • Visualise these things as you go to sleep – combine with a sleep mantra if you need help dropping off

This works by counteracting learned helplessness, a major cause of depression, and is the intervention the 94% comes from

2.Exercise more than your usual habit – even if its just going for a walk – it will increase your motivation

3.Word Choice: be vigilant in your self-talk: if you’re asked how you are say ‘not as chirpy as normal’, avoid the D word, using it programmes you more deeply into the disease

4.Write: make a self-talk script that addresses the issues you’re finding most challenging, record it or just review it when you feel the need for a boost, make sure it talks about the solution, the way you want to feel & act, not the symptoms


  • memory detox those unhappy memories that keep haunting you (ie respond to them by defocusing the mental image, take out the colour, distort the sound & make it quiet, make the adjusted image rush into the distance so it becomes vanishingly small)
  • actively recall times that make you feel good

6. Present:

  • make sure the balance of your conditioning (ie what you watch, read, listed to, say, think) is even more positive than usual, go over the top, positivity is the enemy of the disease
  • savour the positive experiences in your life, take time to enjoy them, centre yourself in the present – staying in the now counteracts the temptation to ruminate on what went wrong in your past or to fear what might do so in the future

7.Future: your optimism will need a boost, find positives about your future, hold onto them, setting even very small goals will help enormously but if you do this make absolutely certain you set yourself up for success. Indeed its probably better to set goals about doing things towards achieving your goals (so called process and performance goals) than about achieving things (outcome goals) – if you fall short against outcome goals they become a rod for your back, if you miss a process goal you just start again!

8.Disputation: this will help with some of the earlier tips if they seem a step too far for you at the moment; this is a way to overturn habitual patterns of thought that tighten the disease’s grip on a person; write down the automatic thought, dispute its basis/assumptions/catastrophising (in writing) using logic, objectivity, evidence, your positive side – the idea is to pick away at the irrational negatives – then write down how you are going to think about the point in future, and how that makes you feel…

9.Focus on others: its very easy to become insular and self absorbed, so force yourself to spend time with people, and think about their needs & challenges – if you can find a way to help someone even better – there’s good evidence that helping others helps us come out of depression

10.Stay Dry: It’s very tempting to reach for a chemical crutch that dulls the pain but alcohol really is a depressant, the last thing you need right now.

That will help – and you should get advice from your GP and/or a counsellor (go for a clinical Positive Psychologist if you can find one, or a cognitive behavioural therapist – best to avoid psychoanalysis).

When you recover, congratulate yourself & celebrate, and be ready with a resilient response if it comes back after a while – that’s the nature of the disease, it can recur. But that’s OK, you can beat it again. You are the master here. You are the hero.

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