General Question

ninjacolin's avatar

Is it really impossible to "snap out of" a truly depressed state?

Asked by ninjacolin (14233points) June 16th, 2012

Often times you hear how depressed individuals can’t just “snap out of it” and society is encouraged not to think it’s so simple for people.

What anecdotes do we have or what studies do we have on “snap out of it” trials as therapy?

If someone volunteered in advance to attempt to snap out a depressed state and made a plan on how they will go about it.. would it necessarily fail during a bout of depression? Is it possible with great effort over time for “snap out of it” to become a learned skill a depressed person to treat any of their symptoms?

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31 Answers

ZEPHYRA's avatar

You never snap out of an abyss, it just can’t happen.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I’ve never experienced depression, so I don’t know.

augustlan's avatar

I can only speak for myself, and say it was absolutely impossible to snap out of it once I was in the throes of true depression. If I catch it early enough, while I’m just on the way to depressed, I can often turn it around. Once I’m there, it’s way too late.

Aethelflaed's avatar

I’m never entirely sure what “snapping out of it” means. It seems more like a slogan than an actual plan of action.

Deklandb's avatar

In my experience it takes years of self-reflection and examination, theorapy, meditation, or medication (or some combination of those). And in some amazingly rare cases a head injury has cured it (like a gunshot or stroke). But beyond that or a religious or spiritual or other kind of epiphony, i dont believe a person could just snap out of a real depression instantly. But who knows, everyones biology and circumstances are different. I hope your not depressed, and if you are i hope you have someone to talk to. Its not an easy thing to come out of, and those that do are incredibly lucky.

flutherother's avatar

I have never been as depressed as this but going by what I have read you might as well expect someone to jump over the moon as ‘snap out’ of a depression. In the deepest states of depression you can’t even summon up the energy to commit suicide.

ninjacolin's avatar

Thanks, @Deklandb. Strangely, I wish I were depressed so I could put myself through a trial and get my answer! I don’t mean for the “snap” to be entirely instant.. I’ll explain the idea in my head a bit more…

@Aethelflaed, good question. I suppose I’m imagining it like.. well.. have you ever been in a big fight with someone while others (or perhaps even yourself) are admonishing you to back down, let it go, forget about the fight and go for a walk? To be able to acknowledge that you’re having a moment and to take specific actions (eg. walking away, shutting up, having a glass of water, exclaiming: “K, i’m freaking out right now. And this isn’t worth it.”) to change your circumstance and get some clarity..

I can see @flutherother‘s point though that if you can’t access the energy to act, you can’t access the energy to do anything. but what if you decided in advance to abide by triggers. Like.. if another (trusted) person were to say: “You’re having a moment.” Then you would acknowledge your situation and perform a set of actions as a meditation to overcome your situation.

@augustlan, i imagine it would have to be something you established for yourself in advance of a serious bout of depression. In a sense, you would almost begin looking for a deep depression in order to attempt the “snap out” experiment. I imagine it would almost be exciting to have an opportunity to try treating it that way. It might even feel like you’re not taking depression seriously while you do it and/or like you aren’t being realistic in the moment.

I’m musing on the idea, btw. Inquiring.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@ninjacolin Sure. But if you’re telling someone to stop being depressed, taking the time to actually spell out all those various steps seems much more helpful than “snap out of it”. Those steps could take several hours to accomplish, and that’s just for a small fight, not a severely debilitating mental condition. Normally, when people say “snap out of it”, they aren’t trying to provide the depressed person with an actual game plan for action, they’re saying they want the depressed person to stop being depressed around them immediately.

josie's avatar

If I am an example, yes you can.
When I got out of the service, I was bothered by some negative feelings that were affecting my life. I talked to a professional who pointed out, in so many words, that I did what I had to do, and I was not morally accountable for it. The biggest help of all was limiting my alcohol intake.
Plus, I read some books on philosophy and morality, and voila, problem solved.

Deklandb's avatar

Well done @josie that is awesome. Thank you for your service to our nation.

Deklandb's avatar

@ninjacolin if you dont mean instantly then i think i know what you mean, like a “take a moment and try to put things in perspective” or did you mean something else?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Clearly, you’ve never been clinically depressed.

YARNLADY's avatar

It depends on the cause of the depression. If it is chemically caused, it is possible that the body will actually heal itself. If it is a combination of chemical imbalance plus psychological issues, it is less likely.

tranquilsea's avatar

I’ve been clinically and majorly depressed. I had people tell me to snap out of it and those were some of the most hurtful words I heard. I wasn’t a passively depressed person: I tried everything to feel better. I sought out therapy, I went on drugs, I read every book I could on depression etc, etc, etc. I wouldn’t have been depressed if I could just decide not to be.

“Snap out of it” is a way for the deliverer to not deal with the emotions presented to them. Those words lack understanding and compassion.

My “snap out of it” has taken 15 years of intensive therapy and facing many traumas that I had buried in an effort to snap out of it as sometimes snapping out of it is just a form of avoidance.

Deklandb's avatar

@tranquilsea it always makes me happy to meet someone who has pulled through!

Linda_Owl's avatar

If you are severely depressed, there is no way to “snap out of it”. Frequently you are unable to even look like you are making the effort to snap out of it. To tell a depressed person that they should just ‘snap out of it’ is an insult to the depressed person & reflects a total lack of understanding of what depression is.

tranquilsea's avatar

Thank you @Deklandb. It was rough going for a while but I pulled through with the unyielding understanding and support of my husband and, later, my children.

I should say, though, that my path is not everyone’s path. You have to find what works for you.

6rant6's avatar

@ninjacolin Maybe this will help.

If you had another brain disorder like agnosia or dementia, no one would suggest you could just “snap out of it” by act of will.

Depression looks superficially like sadness. Which most of us experience, and most of us recover from. When we first learn about depression, we are apt to think it’s like sadness only worse. To make it even harder to understand, sadness often precedes and contributes to depression. But depression is a brain chemistry problem which cannot be willed away. It can be treated, and some treatments look like “go out and have a good time.” But many depressed people will never completely overcome the disease. And believe me, they all want to.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@YARNLADY All depression is a chemical imbalance. Those that are caused by external issues (eg loved one dies, undergo a traumatic event, etc) can often be fixed without chemical intervention (medication) much more easily than random chemical imbalances, especially if the depression doesn’t last too long.

wundayatta's avatar

Depression is a very strange beast. We’re all used to feeling like we can control ourselves. We feel we are autonomous and we make choices. We choose how we react to situations, including, to some degree, the way we react emotionally. We are used to thinking of our emotions as reasonable reactions to situations we encounter in life.

But imagine how you would feel if the emotion came first, and then came the situation. As if the emotion caused the situation instead of the other way around. But that can’t be, can it? So you must have got it wrong. The situation must have come first and somehow you didn’t notice it, or maybe you are a very sensitive person, and your body noticed the situation before you did, and thus it reacted before you were aware there were things to react to.

The first time this happened to me, I felt like it was a premonition. All of a sudden there was this incredible anxiety in my chest, which began to feel heavier and heavier. I felt like someone had died. It was an incredibly powerful feeling. I called my parents to see if they were all right. They were. I kept expecting bad news.

A few days later, an email came out saying that a friend of mind had just found out he had cancer of some kind and had only a week to live. Counting back, I figured that he had received the news a few days before, at approximately the same time I had my premonition of death.

I wanted to believe it. I even wrote a question about it here. Marina told me it was probably just coincidence, and I really wanted her to be right, but I desperately needed to understand this feeling that didn’t make sense. But the feeling was already rocking my world and it was going to get so much worse and so much stronger and so much more inexplicable and it would be many, many years before I was able to cope with it, and that feeling nearly made me kill myself.

I was relatively stable at the time, although I was coming to the end of a long mania and didn’t know it. But I am a rational person and I didn’t believe I couldn’t control my feelings. So I told myself it was nothing. I meant nothing. I told myself to snap out of it.

Even a few months later, when things were so much worse, I would beat myself up because nothing I did made any difference. I could not think my way out of this. I told myself I was being lazy. I told myself I must really want to be depressed. I never believed I was sick. That was just an excuse. Excuses were for weak people. I was not a weak person.

Well, weak person or not, depression got me, and there was nothing I could do about it except, it seemed, to kill myself. That’s because, I eventually learned, the depression had nothing to do with me or my thoughts. My thoughts came from the depression, not the other way around. It was my brain chemistry that made these thoughts happen, which was a scary thought. I never wanted to believe that what I thought was a result of chemistry. Where was I in all this? Who was I? And especially, who was I if I wasn’t controlling my thoughts.

Fortunately, chemistry is controlling my thoughts. Fortunately, we have drugs that can change brain chemistry. One day, soon after I started my meds a remarkable change happened. I don’t remember the exact thought. It was probably something about being a worthless fuck who should just kill himself and save everyone a lot of trouble. One day I was thinking that thought and the next day, I couldn’t think it. I don’t know how to explain the feeling of being unable to think something, because of course I can think it. I can write it down. But the first day it was a serious thought leading to actions, and the next day it made me laugh. How could I have ever thought that? How absurd. It was unthinkable!

I hope you can see that the idea of snapping out of this comes from a lack of understanding about what is going on. It comes from assumptions about personality that are based on how we feel being us; not based on the actual chemistry of being a person.

There are many ways of changing brain chemistry. You can use meds. You can use electric shock. You can use magnetic fields. And yes, you can use thought. Therapy. It is most difficult to do it through thought. The idea that you can change your brain chemistry using thought in a snap is patently absurd to anyone who has experienced depression.

Since you haven’t experienced it, I can only hope my little story would give you a tiny taste of it. Enough, perhaps, to allow you to imagine the helplessness you have when you can not control how your brain works.

But I doubt you can really imagine it. I couldn’t. For five decades of life, I was fine, and I believed depression was something people should be able to snap out of. I could tell that I could change my mind whenever I really wanted to. That’s how it seemed to me. The idea of being helpless in my brain was absurd and unimaginable. A head scratcher. I wasn’t sure if people were being lazy, but I thought there was something essential they were missing and it would be pretty simple to show them how they could be in control and depression wasn’t necessary.

Of course, I laugh at my old self now. I was well-intentioned but oh so naive. I understand that people resort to “snap out of it” out of frustration. They want to help, but feel we who are depressed aren’t really trying. They can’t imagine that they don’t get it. They’ve all been depressed. They were able to handle it on their own. You can, too.

God forbid you should ever have a real depression. One fifth of the people with my brain disorder die of their own hand. 20%! If people could snap out of it, they surely would. No one wants to die. We just want the pain to stop. Depression hurts worse than any physical ailment. It sounds absurd, but ask anyone with depression would they rather be tortured and waterboarded, and they’d all say yes.

Imagine that! People would rather be water-boarded than depressed. And you want them to snap out of it? No. This is not something people have that kind of control over. Believe me. I would snap out of it in a second if I could. I want to so badly. I would rather take torture than be depressed.

SO just imagine what a depressed person will think of you when you tell them to snap out of it. Do you understand how it is perhaps the biggest betrayal we can imagine?

linguaphile's avatar

Major depression’s the most expensive disease, in my book. It interferes with your ability to earn money and pay bills regularly. It interferes with your ability to do well at work and negotiate the house of mirrors of work politics. It interferes with your motivation and drive. You lose things, forget things, procrastinate, spend money indiscriminately, have little interest in doing anything productive. You lose friends. It is the most colorless, numb, bland, exhausting place one can find their self in. I doubt anyone would choose to be in or stay in this state.

Sometimes a depressed person will have an epiphany or something major will happen that will start them on their way out of depression, but while in that horrible place, options do not exist. It often becomes a way of life to the point that you forget there was anything else. I was fortunate to have ‘something major’ happen and I woke up. It took me 2 years, many books and an excellent therapist to get to where I appreciate life again, and I’m still working on it.

So, no, it’s not possible to snap out of it. It’s something to climb out of, not a button to press. People do come out, but those that are in that state need support. Our society’s just not ready to give it.

augustlan's avatar

Just as another example, I have anxiety and have taken daily medication for years which treats both the anxiety and the depression. For the most part, that does the trick, but I still have panic attacks sometimes, and they come on very suddenly. I’m supposed to take a Xanax (a fast acting medication) when I have a panic attack, but… every time I have one, I am in such a state that I forget that I can pop a pill and be better in a few minutes. Every single time. Thank goodness all my family and friends know about the issue and will remind me. Sometimes they even have to get the pill and a drink for me. And that’s just for a temporary panic attack.

Depression is like that, too, though the symptoms aren’t the same. I was clinically depressed and suicidal for many years, and could not find my way out. I tried everything you can think of (short of electric shock therapy), and the only thing that has ever really made a difference is being properly medicated. Years of therapy helped, too, but it didn’t fix my brain chemistry. I’ve tried to do without the medication a number of times, with disastrous results each time. I will be on it for the rest of my life. I am finally okay with that.

DaphneT's avatar

The phrase “snap out of it” is mean. It conveys the message that the speaker cannot be bothered by the depressed person’s issues and furthers that person’s feelings of negativity. We have the accumulated knowledge of the past century to tell us that depression needs more care than that.

tranquilsea's avatar

@augustlan ECT was suggested for me as well. Medication never worked and I was in a dangerous position. But I couldn’t do it especially after talking to a couple of women who did have it done. The procedure didn’t bother me as much as the missing memories they both coped with.

wundayatta's avatar

@tranquilsea Did anyone ever mention the magnetism treatment to you? It is used on people that haven’t been helped by anything else, and it works on a small portion of them. The nice thing about it is that is is much less invasive than electroshock and meds.

bkcunningham's avatar

I’m glad that there are meds to help with depression. My mother-in-law’s mother was institutionalized in a state hospital for depression. We now think that perhaps it was also undiagnosed diabetes coupled with clinical depression, but it is a really sad story of a young girl becoming the head of the household and growing up without a mother. They’d go on Sunday’s to the hospital and have a picnic on the ground. Her mother, if she was feeling upto it, would come to the window and wave while their father visited with her. She was released and committed suicide with rat poison in their barn.

tranquilsea's avatar

@wundayatta No, no one mentioned that. What ultimately helped me was time, support and a damn good psychiatrist.

Paradox25's avatar

As a guy who has suffered from both extreme anxiety, panic and depression I’ll answer no here. There were isolated times where I could briefly motivate myself on certain occasions, but only to get sucked back into the whirlwind of doom again. Maybe I could answer this with a semi-yes, with medication, but even that can take a while to start affecting you.

ninjacolin's avatar

Many many great responses thank you so much!

In trying to understand it, I began to wonder if it would be like asking an inebriated person to snap out of it. Or asking someone with a migraine to snap out of it. I can relate to the difficulty in these comparisons since the afflictions are chemically induced rather than a matter of logic or perspective.

Response moderated (Writing Standards)
Ela's avatar

I don’t think I have ever experienced a true deep depression. I can pull myself out of it but it’s more of a slow drag than a snap. It’s like I know there is a dark pit there. I try to avoid it but it will call to me.
Most times I stand on the edge and just stare into it awhile. But sometimes it’s pull goes deeper….

As I sit, staring into the abyss, my soul sits beside me weeping.
There is nothing I can do, nothing i can say, nothing I can think or feel that will console it.
I am completely helpless.
My soul is so sad without you.

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