The results are in, and they’re sobering: 100% of all people who suffer from depression were once children.
Yes, childhood is the #1 risk factor for depression. Having been a child accounts for more depression than job loss, divorce, prison time and the loss of a loved one combined.
Until now, depression — especially of the mild to moderate variety — was considered mysterious. It was often attributed to unexplained chemical imbalances in the brain.
We now know that, at least in the United States, having been a child is the Number One risk factor for depression.
Why might this be?
Head vs. Heart
Being a child — even a happy child — means getting repeated, emphatic lessons in how to deny your own emotions.
For example, well-meaning parents tell children to “stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” thus teaching children that difficult feelings can and should be controlled.
Here are a few other parental favorites that encourage the questioning and judgment of the heart by the head:
- “Don’t be so upset; it’s not that big a deal”
- “Just ignore her”
- “Say you’re sorry”
- “Big boys (or girls) don’t cry”
- “But you like spaghetti!”
Parents mean well, but kids get the wrong idea.
Children believe that if their feelings are inappropriate, annoying, or wrong, it means they’re those things. They can’t separate who they are from how they feel. Or even from what happens to them.
When you’re a kid, you think every bad, wrong thing that happens in your life is because of you.
And that’s depressing.
So you try really hard to do the right thing, which is to be happy and quiet. You try never to feel bad, because when you do, important others become exasperated, sad or uninterested.
Reversing the Effects of Childhood
Once kids become adults, misguided attempts to continue controlling their feelings — not just their behavior, which presumably IS under their control, but their emotions, which are not — can lead to a total breakdown in communication between head and heart.
The head says, “Don’t do that, do this.”
And the heart says, “I don’t want to.”
So then the head snaps, “Don’t you talk back to me!” or whatever it is the head learned to say when dealing with the heart.
And the heart goes silent.
This head/heart disconnect creates a sense of separation from the Self — a painful state that leads almost inevitably to — say it with me — depression.
While we can’t do away with childhood completely, research suggests that depressed adults can gain some relief by re-parenting themselves in several important ways:
- Allowing themselves to have “negative” feelings, without having to justify them
- Replacing a habit of self-criticism with self-acceptance
- Sweating the small stuff because hey, life’s not fair… and that STINKS
- Adopting a policy of self-compassion
- Putting themselves first in line for compassion when needed
- Developing a sense of healthy entitlement
Research continues. Volunteers are currently being recruited. Please leave a comment if you’d like to participate.