Depression as a Defence Mechanism?

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Could depression actually be a form of protection?

I have heard clients say that, for them, depression feels like an affliction, something which can come on with no warning – ’bouts’ of depression, sometimes followed by an eventual lifting after months, or years. No rhyme or reason why and often no trigger identified. This can be like a cycle, with some people stuck in this never ending loop, and never knowing why it’s happening or how to help themselves.

But what if depression serves a purpose?

Just as anxiety can be the brain’s way of reacting to a frightening situation, and dissociation can be a way for abuse survivors to cope with traumatic events, depression can also be seen to be a way of protecting yourself.

People have likened it to being in quicksand, existing in a bubble, or under a dark cloud – depression often leads to no or low motivation to do anything, where you can’t even get out of bed, or wash yourself, let alone get to work or school.

Where the depression is cyclical, sometimes when it lifts there is a sense of needing to get everything done while feeling ‘up’ and more motivated. And a sense of needing to catch up on everything missed while in the latest bout of depression.

So if this is you, perhaps ask what does depression do for you? What is the payoff to being in this position?

What’s the payoff?

Maybe you’ve been under a lot of stress and you’re prone to overwhelm, does depression put you in a shut down so you can’t do anything but rest? Maybe it means you stay in and aren’t confronted by potentially difficult social situations which overwhelm you? Maybe it stops you from working. And focuses you on the essential things your brain and body need to survive – rest (and lots of it) and a low level of stimulation. If you think of it, even having a shower or getting dressed is not deemed essential in survival terms.

You could liken it to when your body is in extreme cold conditions – it draws all the warmth in your body to your core, the place where it is needed most to survive. So what if we look at depression like a drawing in of your resources to protect the core, into the places they’re needed most.


“What if depression is like a drawing-in of resources to protect the core – into the places they are needed most.”

Amy Peters – Newglade Counselling

I’m not suggesting that you can put a positive spin on depression, or not take it seriously. Indeed, I think it’s often important to see your GP to have a conversation about your mental health. But as counsellors we talk about the importance of self care, and hopefully help you to see things from a new perspective. I’m hopeful that this blog might help with that, and gently challenge some of the more hopeless feelings about being stuck this way.

It’s quite possible that if you, or someone you know, is in the depths of depression, you may not be able to see any of this right now. And that’s ok (it’s not an essential survival tool to be able to analyse yourself either!). But perhaps save this blog to look at later, when you have a little more energy. Or maybe you can start journaling to write down some of what is going on for you. You might start to uncover patterns that shed a little light, or even provide a bit of hope.

See my 5 Self Care Activities That Won’t Cost You A Penny for some ideas on how to look after yourself.

Sun rays shining through the clouds

Amy is a counsellor specialising in neurodivergence and the founder of Newglade Counselling. She has created a team of neurodivergent counsellors who work online and face to face around Canterbury, Kent. Amy also provides parent support sessions, clinical supervision and delivers training in therapy and neurodivergence. For more information about our services contact us here

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  1. Alison Cromey

    I always feel a sense of relief when i submit to depression. I find it a comforting place where i can go into autopilot and stop feeling anxious and panicky, so confirming some of the points raised in this article. Of course, neither anxiety nor depression is desirable but when you are exhausted and feeling ‘hyper’ then depression can be like a warm welcoming blanket, allowing you to turn inwards and, in a way, recover. The trouble is when this mindset continues or deteriorates and you cant claw your way out of it. So, yes, as someone who has experienced depression since the 90s i would say that my depression could be viewed as a temporary off-switch when life becomes too much. The problem is that sometimes its not easy to switch it back on..

    1. newglade Wellbeing

      Thank you so much for sharing your insights Alison. You explain it so well and I’m sure many can identify with this. Amy

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