Tool vs. Solution: An Important Distinction in Dealing with Depression

One of the things that I’ve found valuable as a tool in dealing with depression is figuring out ways to think more positively about things. This has been easier since I had my epiphany about misery a while back. It takes a lot of work, because it’s generally not as simple as just looking on the bright side—I have to be able to find positive perspectives that I actually believe, and then I have to practice then until they become habits. Neither is easy, and it often takes a lot of help from friends both to think of new perspectives and to get them to stick.

I am as opposed as I ever was to the idea of, “Just think positive”, as advice for dealing with depression, though. I’ve finally realized in a nutshell why: it’s not a problem with the strategy, it’s a problem with the way that it’s so often delivered. In my experience, when, “Think positive”, is offered up as advice for dealing with depression, it’s almost always talked about as a solution rather than as one of a collection of tools.

There is no surefire way of curing depression. Some people come out the other side, some people learn to manage it, some people deal with it full-fledged their entire lives, and some reside in the spaces in between these extremes. Every tool that exists to combat it works differently for different people, and for the same people at different times, whether the tool is thinking positive, CBT, drugs, social support, changing circumstances, etc, etc.

Case in point: I’ve been getting “Think positive” as advice for as long as I can remember, but it’s only become a workable strategy following several major, consciously-planned changes in circumstances and a ton of introspection and help from friends.

Positive thinking is a tool. It’s a strategy that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. It’s just like every other one of the tools I mentioned, and all the ones I left out, in that regard. It is a good thing to put on the table in front of someone dealing with depression if it’s presented as one of many potential options that may be worth trying. If you present it as a solution or as something that’s easy to do, though, you’re being part of the problem.

We need to talk about these things realistically. Not as quick fixes, not as solutions, not as easy or simple, but as tools to try out in order to learn what helps in each case at each time for each person and apply those tools as best we can for as long as they continue to work.