Taking a positive from depression

Recently I viewed a photo gallery of a person that has depression. She wanted to use her talent to show others what it feels like to have depression, to live with it daily. Her images were haunting and terrible yet at the same time in a strange way, beautiful, raw and alive. This photographer, like so many others, chose to represent her depression in a creative way. I think this is a wonderful "treatment" for depression--asking the question "what can I DO with these feelings inside of me?" And finding that perhaps the answer is: something very creative.

Whether you take photos like Christian Hopkin or paint like VanGogh (or someone far less talented than he was), time and time again, Creativity has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression. Why? I think because it gives life a purpose. While you're creating, while you're working on the details, you are transmitting or transferring your feelings from the intangible that is inside onto something tangible--be it clay or canvas, yarn or fabric, camera or computer. In this way, you are able to not only share it with others but also look at it in a different way for yourself, perhaps gaining an understanding of it or a new way to look at it.

I have seen several clients that suffer from depression. Many are very creative but have believed the lies that depression tells them to inhibit their creativity--sometimes even giving up painting or writing--because they think its not good enough, no one wants to see it... whatever the lie this time around is.

There may be a fear of producing something as dark and disturbing as depression brings to mind and that is understandable. So, what if, instead of attempting to capture depression, the depression be used as a fuel for something beautiful? I am thinking about VanGogh and his "starry night" painting. A beautiful painting by nearly anyone's standards. First, the act of creating may alleviate the depression as discussed above, but also viewing things that are beautiful has been shown to increase levels of dopamine (one of the neurotransmitters responsible for pleasure) and serotonin (one of the neurotransmitters that helps alleviate depression) acting as a natural antidepressant.

I frequently encourage my clients, depressed or otherwise, to find creative outlets. I have always been a fan of arts and crafts--I grew up crocheting, painting, sewing, making shrinky dinks and sculptures out of salt dough. I think engaging in these or other crafts is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to help decrease depression. Most of us aren't going to produce works like VanGogh but we can paint a pleasing color onto a piece of paper or just enjoy the feel of dough squishing between our fingers. 

Whether we're consciously trying to create something for someone else or consciously trying to just enjoy the process is very important to consider. If I say to myself "I'm going to paint a picture for my mom for her upcoming birthday." I'm going to have a very different experience than if I just say "I'm going to play with paint and enjoy experimenting." If I'm trying to make something for someone else, I will most-likely call to mind a very critical voice: "Its not good enough!" "She won't like it!" Whereas if my intention is to merely experiment and play, I reduce the likelihood of the judgemental voice coming in, and the benefit for my mental health may be far greater.

So, I'd like to give you permission to be creative--play with paint, experiment with drawing, whip up a batch of salt dough circa 1977 and explore your feelings, using them to fuel your creativity.