My friends and patients often ask me: What is sadness? What is grief? What are the major depressions and how many kinds are there?
Well this time, let’s first consider the sadness and grief we all feel from time-to-time. For all of us, this visit of sadness from time-to-time in our lives is the price we have to pay for being humans — social creatures as we are. Higher animals too, such as mammals, do feel sadness as well. I often witness my own cows in my herd “wailing” — an unearthly sound much different to their familiar “moo moo” — as they become agitated while I am busy removing a dead one, which has been for years their friend, for burial on my farm.
Here is why we are prone to the visitation of sadness: humans and social animals have feelings, sentiments. We use these to perceive ourselves with respect to the world and where we stand with ourselves. We also use sentiments to send back-and-forth messages about our intentions to others, such as loved ones. They too do the same. This way we form mutual bonds and give-and-take, with friends, loved ones, mates, children, or our mentors or teachers.
We even invest with feelings in projects, jobs, dreams for the future, professions — besides people — important to us. In fact, feelings along with thoughts are the very meaning of us been human.
Unfortunately, there is a downside to that. We now become vulnerable to sudden loss. People we love die, leave, lose jobs, and their health; or we lose our own health. We often, as we count the passing of our days, feel a whiff of sadness. Furthermore, sometimes we even create sorrows of own making — out of the blue! We humans do have a tendency to create troubles of our own making, as if “the natural allotment falling from heaven is not enough!” We often do goofy things, and as a result we lose jobs, loved ones, friendships, or reputations.
Sudden losses create sadness. We feel disoriented in our grief. We become preoccupied thinking constantly about what we have just lost. We dwell over and over, day in and day out, about the lost loved one, a friend, or a co-worker, who we had invested with our love. We now become distracted, have difficulties to sleep, lose our appetite and interests. We withdraw from other people. We lose our sexual drive. We have no energy. We also feel worthless and sometimes guilty. This state can last for days, months, or, for some of us, even years; especially if we have experienced losses in the early years of life.
This kind of grief rarely needs medications or professional counseling. Instead — again, social beings as we are — we need time to mourn, and we need solace. We need a trusted friend, minister, or respected teacher listening to our recounting of the loss with empathy and respect. As she/he provides succor, the sad person feels much needed solace that heals the wound of the loss. In addition, those of faith may find solace to pray or contemplate alone. And, after we recover — as we usually do — we perhaps are better humans as we feel a little mellower, gentler, and more compassionate.
In addition, there exist other kinds of depressions. They are the serious incapacitating kinds, whose origin and causes are not the result of losses just mentioned, but instead are the result of a malfunction in a part of our brain which is assigned to regulate and keep in balance our sentiments. This part of the brain from time-to-time fails to function properly. These conditions which are grouped under the names as major depressions, Bipolar disorders, Manic Depressive, and some so-called organic depressions will be the subject of our next write-up.