Desert: Depression and Suburban Life
“Depression” and “suburbia” are two words that you don’t usually see in the same sentence. Those who promote suburbia tend to want to portray it as a place where happiness and fulfillment abound. However, as any therapist or counsellor can tell you, depression and anxiety are widespread in the ‘burbs, just as they are in the rest of our society. It’s not that depression is more widespread in the suburbs and exurbs than elsewhere in our society. It’s just that, contrary to the suburban myth of joyful care-free family life, many ordinary, normal people in suburbia are dealing with depression.
Depression is a fairly common occurrence. How frequent it actually is depends a lot upon the level of severity of depression that we’re looking at. Depression is sufficiently common that it can probably be said that most people have been subject to some level of depression at some time in their lives. That being said, it’s essential to not underestimate its potential for disrupting and impacting an individual’s life. If you are suffering from depression, it’s important to take steps to deal with it, rather than just hoping it will go away.
Recently, a client said something to me that I think is very true. Speaking about his own experience of seeking help for depression, he said, “I think that they were all focussed on treating the symptoms of the depression — but they really didn’t get at what it was about.”
What is depression all about? Clearly it is important to take with all due seriousness the science of depression, which understands depression in terms of serotonin levels and all its other physiological and neurological dimensions. But it is equally important to see depression as something human, with a human meaning for individuals like you and me.
There are many viable answers to the question “What is depression?”, but I wanted to write about how Jungians look at it, because I think that we have some unique and important things to say.
Unlike many other forms of psychology, which tend to view depression as essentially an obstacle which must simply be overcome, Jung focuses on depression as involving a damming-up of psychic energy. If the dam can be broken, the energy pent up or held in the depression can then be released, so that it is then free to move in a more positive direction in the individual’s life. Hence, for Jung, there is a potential that is locked in the depression. There are things that can come to life for us, if we can just find the way to free up the trapped energy.
For Jung, the energy is trapped as the result of a psychological conflict or problem. If the energy can somehow be released, it will then be available for the overcoming of the underlying problem. That means that, from a Jungian perspective, it is important, with appropriate help and support, to actually enter in to the depression, and to understand what is at the heart of it, so that the feelings that really underly the depression come into consciousness. Those feelings can then be properly and fully expressed in the suffering person’s life…and the awareness of them can help us to adapt ourselves more fully to our real lives.
For Jung, then, paradoxically, there is a possibility for fuller more meaningful life that is locked at the heart of our depression. It is this hopeful assessment that rests at the heart of the whole Jungian approach to our time in the wilderness of depression. Uncovering the meaning of depression, and what it holds for us in terms of what wants to emerge in our lives, frees us for the journey into the heart to ourselves.