When a Major Setback Causes Depression

by Victor Bezrukov - http://flic.kr/p/7Q3HEM - For illustration only

Reader’s Question

I have a serious problem. Due to certain reasons, I’m compelled to stay at home, so I cannot go to work. I put so much work into my studies so I could graduate, but now, sitting at home, I feel depressed, as I have nothing good to do. I keep on thinking how much my friends are earning and enjoying. This makes me feel very sad, which results in mood swings. I don’t enjoy anything now. I have become so lazy I always want to sleep. My life has become colourless and meaningless. I don’t find anything positive, and I am always angry. Please help me know what to do, and how to deal with this.

Psychologist’s Reply

For anyone who has had the ambition to pursue an education and a career, a setback such as you describe would naturally be distressing, if not devastating. It is unclear from your letter what the circumstances are which led to your current situation or why you are “compelled” to stay at home. However, regardless of the reason for this sudden change, you are clearly describing symptoms of depression related to your inability to work.

When we have a great deal of ourselves invested in something — a job, a marriage, etc. — and it falls apart or ends, there is a natural mourning process that we must go through. What you describe is not just the end of your career and daily life as you knew it, it is also an end to financial security, social interactions at work, respect from peers and clients, etc. It is normal for you to feel depressed and angry about these losses, just as it is not irrational for you to be angry, and resentful of friends who are not facing the struggle that you have before you.

If your current situation is the result of a disability, I strongly recommend that you speak to your doctor about your depressed feelings. Depending on the nature of the disability, there is a chance that there is a medical cause or contributor to the depression. Your doctor might also be able to direct you to a support group for people with your specific problem where you could find other people to speak to who would truly understand your predicament.

Similarly, if you have been laid off from your job, there are also support groups in most major cities for people struggling with unemployment. These groups can serve as networking forums, places to polish resumes and practice interview skills, and to generally get emotional support from others who can empathize.

In either case, some short-term therapy to work through your depressed and angry feelings will be very important to helping you feel less hopeless and powerless in your situation. While your feelings make it difficult to feel energized, make an effort to take at least one small step each day toward improving your quality of life. For example, set a goal to go out for at least one hour in a day; call to make one consultation appointment with a therapist; meet one friend for coffee. While it will often seem challenging, and sometimes seem impossible, making the effort to regain agency in your own life is a critical piece of gaining back the self-esteem and sense of identity that you are missing, now that you are not working.

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