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wundayatta's avatar

What strengths do people with depression or other mental illnesses often have?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) January 7th, 2010

I’ve been trying to figure out what I got out of depression. It nearly killed me, but it also gave me stuff. For one thing, I understand it now, and I think it helps me be more empathetic than I was before. It has also made me reach out to people online (which also got me in trouble), and it has made me write.

I write to save my life, but maybe one or two times I’m also able to help others. I cherish those times. It makes me feel like my depression wasn’t for nothing.

Depression has also given me a pass to a club of wonderful people. I never would have met the person who is now my best friend without it. She wouldn’t have saved my life, and there’s a really good chance I’d be road kill on the cement by now.

Having been depressed allows me to talk about things like suicide and other horrible things without so much fear. Talking about it makes it lose some of it’s mystery. And I know where people are coming from when they want it.

I think that it also makes sense to look at our illnesses for the gifts they provide. I think our illnesses give us strengths that other people don’t have. I don’t quite know what these strengths are good for, but I believe that if we brainstormed, we’d come up with some good ideas. This is not to say that it is desirable to have or seek out mental illness; just that if you have to have it, is there anything useful to get out of it?

What potentially useful strengths and talents could be conferred on people with mental illnesses?

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22 Answers

holden's avatar

It taught me how to rely on myself.

wonderingwhy's avatar

perhaps, if they’re able to get through it like you, a sense of hope, self worth, self sufficiency, and self esteem. along with the clear understanding that those come from within and can never be taken from you no matter what anyone says, thinks, or does. As someone once said, “hope is yours, you can never lose it, only misplace it.”

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

An appreciation of the times when one isn’t depressed. My postpartum depression taught me that if I don’t take medication, the reality I perceive will lead to my suicide. Also
http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20040902/being-in-bad-mood-may-improve-your-memory
and I can’t find the article now but I’ve stumbled on articles about how a person that isn’t utilizing positive thinking is actually benefiting from it

wildpotato's avatar

Intelligence, straight up. All the smart people I know are also insane.

janbb's avatar

@wildpotato But are all the insane people you know smart? Not trying to be facetious here.

I think my ups and downs have given my empathy for other people who are going through depression and enabled me to be less judgmental.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@janbb I get less surprised that they’re depressed if I consider them to be more intelligent than others.

mass_pike4's avatar

@daloon: Do you think your depression is more so genetic related?

janbb's avatar

But is depression really a disease of the intelligent largely? I doubt it.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@janbb no, I don’t think so.

Trillian's avatar

@daloon, I don’t know for sure. I guess you could say that I’m depressed though I have not been able to seek treatment. I’m still functional. I’m also highly intelligent, and a writer. But I can’t say that it has made me empathetic. Or maybe I was but my most recent experience has made me resentful. My s/o had depression also as ONE of his many dx’s. I won’t comment on his IQ other than to say that he and I were not evenly matched. He refused all help and deliberately made choices that made his life worse and worse. I think depression is not your only variable factor here. There are others and it’s a combination of THEM that may have been your saving grace. A high IQ, being able to help others, those are extremely important. Also a good support base. But you had to have had something within yourself. Call it gumption, will, I don’t know, but I think you have to have had this as well or you may very well have slipped away and deprived us all of your wit and observations.

wundayatta's avatar

@mass_pike4 All the mental illnesses have a genetic component. In fact, most of the mental illnesses, if not all, share at least one allele. So they may be more closely related than we had thought—perhaps they are all variations on a theme.

I’m bipolar. I have a couple of cousins and an uncle on my father’s side that I know are bipolar. I have an aunt and a second cousin or something on my mother’s side who are bipolar. Most bipolar people can find an ancestor with something strange going on within the last two generations.

@Trillian I’m obviously not a clinician or anything, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I suspect you are not clinically depressed. I’m sure you are depressed, but from what little you say, I’m guessing your depression is more situational. Of course, if there’s more that I don’t know, I’ll look pretty stupid. Oh well.

The real reason I say this is because I think your s/o’s behavior would be much more understandable to you if you were non-situationally depressed.

He refused all help and deliberately made choices that made his life worse and worse.

That’s what depressed people do. That’s what depression is. You don’t feel like you are worth helping. You can’t understand why other people don’t see that. So you push them away. You want things to get worse and worse, because that is the only way you can make sense out of what you feel.

When I was depressed, it made no sense. I felt awful, and yet my life was a good life. The more depressed I got, the less sense it made, and I started pushing people away, and trying to destroy my life. I didn’t do it consciously, it’s just that I felt so bad and I couldn’t let anyone help me or try to make me feel better.

I wanted to feel better. I wanted to be loved. Yet I couldn’t allow it. In my case, I kept on pushing until the very edge and then some self-preserving impulse kept me from pushing any further. I didn’t really want to die, but I couldn’t see how it could work out any other way. I couldn’t stand the idea of being in that kind of pain forever, and no matter how many shrinks told me it would end, it sure didn’t feel that way to me.

I hate to say it, but the best thing to do when a depressed friend or relative pushes you away is to stay (unless they get physically abusive). It’s really hard to stay because it hurts so much to be rejected. The only thing I can say to people who are in this situation is that there is a very good chance your loved one is testing you. He or she wants to see if your love is real. So you have to keep loving them through all kinds of shit they will put you through in order to pass the test. And you also have to get them medical care.

I don’t blame anyone for being unable to stick through this. It helps if you understand that what the depressed person is saying is bullshit. It’s all bullshit. Not that it isn’t heartfelt and true in that moment, but it does not reflect the person they would be if they weren’t depressed.

See, here’s how weird it is to be like this. I love compliments. Well, secretly, anyway. But when you said that bit about depriving you of my wit and observations, I had a horrid sinking feeling. It is all I can do to not tell you all the ways you are wrong. It is all I can do to even let there be a possibility that you could be right, or, at least, reflect the views of people other than yourself.

I love what you say, and yet I want to push you away. It’s hard to control this kind of thing. I have to let myself acknowledge both feelings. It makes me very sad to be this way. I want to be happy, but a part of me keeps pushing that away, too. Maybe I just don’t believe it is possible, and so I won’t let myself feel good. I don’t know. But there’s nothing I want more in the world than to be told I’ve helped someone, and there’s nothing I fight harder than being acknowledged for actually doing that. That’s why they call us crazy.

So who could know this? People who have been there seem to recognize that what I say feels similar to what they do. But if you haven’t been there, and all you know is what someone like me tells you, then how could you know? And if you don’t know, how can you feel empathy. And if you give up, then you are reconfirming everything the depressed person actually thinks. Oh God! It’s such a fucked up mess. I believe it is true for me. Maybe it’s true for others. Maybe it could help someone persevere in the face of such obstruction. In the end, it’s all about love, and for some reason, I am particularly challenged in being able to feel loved. It’s not something anyone can help, although I keep seeking love from the outside. It’s somewhere in me where I have to find a way to switch off that belief that I am never good enough and never worthy enough and a fraud and all that.

gailcalled's avatar

My young – bipolar friend was a really talented painter. During the worst of his depressions, all he could do was smoke cigarettes and exist. When he took his meds., he started painting again. Sadly, he died of an unexpected heart attack at age 42. The drugs he did as a youth affected his heart, it turned out.

Trillian's avatar

@daloon. Wow, thank you for that insight. I can see exactly how what you say could apply. I couldn’t stay though. He got deeper and deeper into the pills. OC’s. Then he started shooting up. He made me spend all my money on him. I was broke though i worked two jobs. i won’t tell you all the crap, because it sounds like I’m saying “Waaah” now. It isn’t that, I just didn’t have the resources or skills to help him.. And I knew he was going to crash and burn. Ii didn’t want to go down too. I’m trying to make my life better. I’m going to school online and working two jobs.
whatever…. I’m just saying. I did everything I could before I finally left. I’m angry at him for it and angry that it was beyond my ability to fix, but I can’t do it all by myself. That’s what I meant about something inside of YOU. You have something that he does not that is helping you to work towards wellness. Maybe he just needs to hit rock bottom and me being there was keeping him from it.
I believe now that he never loved me, I was just a person to fill a vacancy, not someone with whom he wanted to build a life. That’s why it was so easy for him to talk ugly to me all that time. I had written it off to his “problems”. I forgave a lot because of them. I think now that I made a mistake from the beginning.

wundayatta's avatar

@Trillian That sounds really hard. Like I say, I really do understand the choices people make. Maybe if people understood better what is going on in other people’s heads they might have some different way to work on it. I don’t know. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

Sophief's avatar

I don’t think it has given me anything. Nothing positive has come out this. I have no strengths.

rhodes54's avatar

Strengths?
Hell, It’s given me SUPER POWERS!! Ordinary superheroes aren’t affected by pain, but I’M almost impervious to pleasure! Go ahead, stroke my hair, give me a hug, tell me you love me..I won’t feel a thing!
Not only that, but sometimes I can see right through people into what I imagine their true motives are!
I’ve also got preternatural hearing powers; I can withstand an onslaught of verbal communication without comprehending a thing!
At the grocery store, I feel positively IMMORTAL, since I can apparently stand until the end of time in the toothpaste aisle staring at the different brands without being able to make a choice.
Oh, and I’m a Grandmaster of Disguise, since if you met me, you’d NEVER guess that I was just an imposter; artfully posing as a human being.

You think non-depressed people can do all that!!??

side note from personal experience: depression ≠ insanity. Insane people don’t know they’re insane and some are quite happy.

mattbrowne's avatar

Maturity. People who never had to deal with a major crisis can’t be good leaders for example.

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”—Dale Carnegie

wundayatta's avatar

@rhodes54 Now don’t get your head all caved in or anything. This is not a compliment. It’s a criticism. Ok? You are bitterly funny. Cynical, even. And no, I don’t think non-depressed people can do that. At least, not very convincingly.

So that’s another gift selfish action. It enables depressed people to write their caustic observations about the world, thus dragging everyone else down into the hell that our reality is. Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.

lonelydragon's avatar

@janbb I think wildpotato has a point. Maybe not all depressed people are intelligent, but researchers have observed a relationship between depression and intelligence. Here’s a link if you’d like to read more:

http://www.personalityresearch.org/papers/beattie.html

On an intuitive level, it makes sense. On recurrentdepression.com, one writer had this to say about the relationship between depression and intelligence:

“Some of the characteristics of high intelligence are an above-average imagination, superior verbal ability, and advanced analytical skills. This is the perfect recipe for cooking-up very elaborate, and very negative, inner dialogues. And that’s exactly what happens.” Also, it’s easier for a depressed person to create that inner dialogue because s/he probably has greater awareness of personal foibles and mistakes.

Less intelligent people that I have known seem to skate through life with very few instances of depression. The most superficial people that I knew were also the happiest, because they never examined their lives. Intelligent people, who dig below the surface level in their thinking, are more introspective and will over-examine themselves.

janbb's avatar

@lonelydragon You make interesting points. Thanks. I wonder though, if we now look at depression as a chemical imbalance in the brain how that factors in with intelligence?

wundayatta's avatar

There’s a complex interplay between genes and environment. Perhaps many people have the genes for depression, yet the genetic predispositions are primarily triggered in more intelligent people, simply because intelligent people are more likely to bring about the circumstances these genes are primed to react to.

I don’t know if there is a way to determine the relative responsibility of genes compared to environment for any particular set of circumstances. Look at weight lifting, for examplee. All of us have the genetic code to change our muscles in response to varying environmental conditions. When there are huge stresses on our muscles, such as when lifting weights regularly, the codes that help build big, powerful muscles kick in. When there are no stresses like that, the muscles, unneeded, switch energy to other parts of our capabilities—say, worrying, or depression or developing more complex neural networks. It could be that becoming strong actually does make you less intellectually sophisticated, if we have limited resources within our bodies.

Then there’s the feedback loop over the generations. As people within a family are wealthy enough to need to use less brute force and more intellectual force, the mitochodrial DNA that help the RNA express the genetic instructions (I’m making this up a bit, since I’m not a geneticist, but I know it’s something like this) start to predominate, and succeeding generations become even more likely to use energy for brain development instead of muscle development, and thus, evolution changes how we are and what we are good at over generations—sometimes even in a visible way—that fast!

Well, that’s a lot of speculation based on a shallow knowledge of a lot of things. So take it with a grain of salt—or maybe ten. Still, I think it’s an interesting speculation, and who knows? Maybe it will turn out to have a lot of evidence to support it, some day.

lioncaller's avatar

@wildpotato I don’t think there’s a correlation, despite other studies posted here. I read somewhere else, though can’t remember where, that while mental illness may be more highly represented among the intelligent, the intelligent are not more highly represented among the mentally ill. If you were a social worker, public defender, or teacher you would be aware of this, most likely. There are a high proportion of average or low-average IQ nutcases (I mean that in a nice way) in prison or on welfare. They’re there because they don’t function well, and they don’t function well because they’re insane and don’t have the intelligence and support structures to get the help they need. Or they’re too depressed. Just saying.

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