Depression and Identity
By: Christian Baginski, Masters Level Intern
Depression is sadly a common ailment in modern mental health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health around 8.4 percent of adults in the United States have experienced at least one depressive episode (NIMH, 2022). There are many factors that can create the environment for people to experience depression and one such factor we will focus on today is “identity.” Identity is a difficult topic to explain and explore because it means something so different for different people. For example, part of my identity is involved in my Polish heritage. I identify with my heritage differently than all other people with Polish heritage because of the other elements that make up my personal identity such as my education, job, values, and even the activities I do in my free time. Identity means to a person what they want it to mean, life experiences can make certain things that are inane for some people, significant in the eyes of the person who experienced them. This is all trying to illustrate how complex identity work can be but also how interesting it is to learn about this complex identity within ourselves. Our individual identity is directly related to our social identity, involving how we want to be perceived by others. Social identity can partially rely on how we actually are perceived by others making some parts of social identity difficult to control.
Depression can start to show itself around identity when a few criteria are met. Identity often changes and a major part of identity is rediscovering ourselves when one element is no longer true. If being an altruistic person is part of my identity and I channel this through giving out money to my friends and family in need, I might lack purpose if I run out of money to give out. Those that expected me to give money gradually stop expecting it of me and I am left distraught that I both cannot be helpful, and people are seeing me differently. One of the most important parts of Identity as it ties to depression is the perception of yourself as it is reinforced by other people. When circumstances change you cannot always be the same person you once were. This can be incredibly difficult for someone to reconcile. Identity is often tied with people’s self-image and idea of purpose. If a person does not feel like they have purpose it is not surprising that they might experience some depression. Other sources of this kind of identity struggle can be in the form of moving to a new location through things like discrimination or acculturation as well as traumatic experiences. Sudden or significant shifts force people to find a new version of themselves and that is almost never a simple process.
With all this being said you might be wondering, how do I find a new identity for myself? Outside of therapy there are various strategies you can employ to try to find yourself again. Some of these include simple things like finding a new community to associate with, a church, a gaming group, an intermural sports league. These changes can get much more significant, if necessary, but this will vary based on your situation. If someone is really struggling one of the most effective ways to approach identity is through therapy. We explore various elements of who you still are, what had to change, and what direction we have for you to go. Opening new options for our clients and helping them see their potential to make changes is part of what we do as therapists. If this is what you are struggling with, me and my fellow therapists at Inner Courage Counseling would love to help you rediscover yourself.
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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. (Updated 2022). Major Depression. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression