The Prevention of Depression

The Missing Piece in Wellness

by John Weaver, Psy.D.


Book Details

Get M.O.R.E. out of life...




Experience the Difference.

Are you worried that depression is becoming a chronic problem in your life? Does it seem like your daily life has too much stress? Healthy thinking skills help you to stay emotionally healthy and resilient in the midst of real life.

Inside you will discover, practice, and apply strategies that will increase your ability to live more mindfully, more optimistically and with resilience. Taking a walk through the eyes of a three year old child, solving a problem by learning from your mistakes, or balancing both your needs and the needs of others are just a few of the exercises you will learn as you get MORE out of your life.


Book Excerpt

Value of Prevention

Depression is expensive. When health insurance companies break down the prices of illnesses for employer-based plans, the most costly is depression. It is more costly by almost twice the next most expensive illness, which is high blood glucose (diabetes). It is even more costly to your company because there are more frequent absences from work, higher rates of disability, and lower performance at work among employees who are diagnosed with depression.

The current approach to treating depression, and other mental illnesses is very costly, too. When you are diagnosed with depression you are referred to a very expensive doctor who will meet with you one on one. He or she will either prescribe medication which you will take for a very long time, or you will meet with a psychologist or other therapist, again one on one, perhaps for six months or more.

This matters because you are paying for the rising health insurance premiums through lower wages or cuts in other benefits. According to the Kaiser Foundation, the cost of health insurance rose 73% between the years 2000 and 2005. It has continued to rise, four times faster than wages between 2005 and 2009.

But depression is also expensive in another way. It erodes the quality of life. If you work hard to obtain financial security and to create a home for your family, but you can’t enjoy it because you are caught in the web of depression, what have you gained?

So healthy thinking is valuable, both because of reduced expenses, and improved quality of life.

It involves learning skills associated with mindfulness, optimism and resilience. These ways of thinking have been shown in research to raise your resistance to being diagnosed with a depressive disorder and to assist you to recover more quickly if you go through a period with a depressed mood. In addition, they add to your happiness.

Mindfulness. Imagine that you have left work, driven home, and realized that you arrived in your driveway with no clear memories of how you got there. You were thinking about a problem that you encountered before you left or you were anticipating some situation at home and your driving took place on “automatic pilot.”

Much of life goes by without notice while you are caught up in thoughts about something else. This “mindless” living can become a problem when it causes you to “react without thinking” to feelings of depression.

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. It teaches you to be more aware of decisions you can make to respond skillfully to the distress in your life. When you are mindful, you are able to bring all of your abilities and talents to resolving the issues that arise in your life.

Mindfulness skills have been shown in research to reduce the relapse rates of depression by one half. And up to 40% of those who learned mindfulness skills have been able to eliminate anti-depressant medication without additional episodes of depression.

The research suggests that mindfulness skills are more helpful for those who have had three or more episodes of depression. It is an effective, non-pharmaceutical way to manage chronic depression.

Optimism. If you are pessimistic, you are probably more realistic about the odds you will be successful in your life. But if you are optimistic, you will probably beat those odds! When you are optimistic, you are more successful at preventing depression because you have developed a strategy for life that is extraordinarily effective.

Optimism is not simply positive thinking. When you advocate believing that everything is going to work out (positive thinking) no matter how the situation appears, you are less likely to be successful in the long run. Eventually, your prediction proves to be incorrect and that is emotionally devastating. And when you have employed positive thinking but the outcome is not positive, it is easy to blame yourself for the failure.

If, instead, you are an optimist, you believe in the value of effort. When you are confronted by difficult circumstances, you are eager to learn and grow from the challenge ahead. You believe in your talents and abilities.

Because you approach difficult tasks as an opportunity to learn rather than seeing it as a need to prove yourself, you become skilled in new abilities. When you succeed at a task, you want to apply what you have learned in other, similar (and not-so-similar) situations.

And if it works now, it seems probable that it will continue to work in the future. Because you continue to apply your successful actions to these new situations, you increase the chances of finding new places that your efforts will succeed.

Resilience. What are some of the hard things in life from which you have had to bounce back? Success in life is not dependent on avoiding the hard things in life but in having the resilience to meet the challenges.

You develop resilience by practicing several specific basic skills. You identify what is most important in your life, you meet the challenges that arise rather than avoid them, and you identify what is in your control and what it not.

When you suffer through hard times, the meaning that you assign to the difficulties makes a difference in how you cope. If you see the efforts you are making to deal with the stress as having value to your family, having a spiritual purpose, or even as a means of personal growth, you will be more resilient.

If you are able to view the issue as an interesting challenge rather than yet another problem, you will be more inclined to work harder and to even enjoy the efforts you are making.

When you are most effective at meeting the challenges of diffi-cult times, you are able to focus on the part of what you can do that is in your control, and let go of those aspects of the situation not in your control.

Motivation for prevention. You probably don’t need to be convinced of the value of prevention… at least not in theory. You know that your car needs regular maintenance and your home needs attention so that these important commodities will function properly.

You know that your body needs regular maintenance too. You should eat healthy foods and get regular exercise. Annual physicals and control of weight and blood pressure all make sense.

Most people have heard about the need to prevent problems. Yet few engage in preventive behaviors.

If you are like the average person, you react to something that is in pain but you will not engage in prevention as an automatic response. So why is it so difficult to practice prevention?

Human beings are NOT set up to notice what is NOT there.

This grammatically troublesome sentence with a double negative is intentional. It points to the most difficult challenge you face in shifting to a preventive approach to life.

When you are in pain, you notice it and you do something about it. But after sitting for an hour at a meeting, how aware are you of the parts of your body that feel good?

This effect actually appears to be grounded in your instinct for survival. If you are walking in the desert, and come up to an oasis, with a beautiful pool of water, some colorful flowers, a couple of shady palm trees and just one lion, what is going to catch your attention? If you don’t pay attention to the lion (even though everything else is much more pleasant) you will be eaten, and you won’t have any children.

You are the descendant of parents who paid attention to the lion.

If you work hard on controlling your weight, staying fit and healthy, what do you get? Nothing! You don’t get a heart attack or diabetes. Because you are like the average person, you don’t notice what isn’t there so why go through all the trouble to be well?

So you react to something that is in pain, but you will not engage in prevention as an automatic response. It will only occur if you are consciously choosing to do something that is preventative.

It is actually harder than that! You know that the most difficult thing about exercise is that it is not that pleasant to do it. Healthy food does not taste the same as food dripping with fat and calories. Likewise, learning healthy thinking skills – to be mindful, resilient, and optimistic – takes effort. The benefit only comes after the work.

It is very important to understand this fact. You will not keep up an exercise routine if you need to feel good all the while you exercise.

You must also learn to ignore the negative thoughts that pop up while you tune into the skills of being mindful, optimistic, and resilient.

It feels good when you have done the work of taking care of yourself. Too often, you are so busy that you might overlook those pleasant feelings and therefore overlook a potential source of inspiration to make healthy choices. Paying attention, on purpose, to the way it feels when you are taking good care of your health is an important motivator that will keep you working at doing things that are preventive.


About the Author

John Weaver, Psy.D.

John Weaver, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist and Director of The Healthy Thinking Initiative. He has taught mindfulness to groups and individuals since 1997 and has been engaged in his own mindfulness work since 1972. He works both as a clinical psychologist and a business consultant with more than 20 years of practical experience with organizations, individuals and groups. He is co-founder and owner of Psychology for Business, bringing the applied psychology to business and industry. He is the chair of the Wisconsin Psychological Association Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award committee and is an accomplished professional speaker.