Depressed and Self-Help Is not Enough

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I think I’ve been depressed a long time, and providing self-therapy without knowing it, and it’s not enough. I’ve been told that depression runs in my family, though my mother’s never specifically told me who has it (and my extended family isn’t close enough for me to figure that out myself) and I’m afraid I may be too. It started early in high school. Hanging out with other people wasn’t appealing, I didn’t want to join any clubs, at lunch I sat with people I knew marginally just so as not to sit alone. Mind you, plenty of people tried to be my friend and I just wasn’t open to it. I was very self-conscious about my looks until about last year, when I got my first boyfriend, and now it just marginally haunts me; however, I know, if we broke up, I would still have that confidence regardless. People in my family are very smart and successful (doctors, scientists, lawyers…) and though I have my own talents I can’t seem to show them. Working at all feels so difficult. I used to be active and now it mentally hurts and is so strenuous to exercise. Occasionally I’ll feel normal and it feels so amazing to not hurt at all. Sometimes I’ll go beyond that and just do, do, do- clean everything, write essays, write short stories- but that only happens up to 3 times a year max. Much more often I sink into awful depression where I cry for hours without reason (about once or twice every 2 months, more in the winter and summer).

But I’ve always been logical and known when my feelings were unwarranted. Then I’d tell myself “that’s not true and you know it,” I try to exercise regularly even though I hate it. I eat healthy whether or not I feel like eating, but the depression is still there in the background, always, debilitating. I go to a great school but I’m getting D’s in classes that I could make B’s or A’s in. I miss class all the time and try to make up for it in my work but I’m so often too tired to work at all. It looks like I’m putting half-effort into everything. I tried to tell my advisor that I’d missed so much of his class because I had 3 nights of insomnia and he asked if I was sick or had other work, to which I could only answer “no”. He looked disappointed.

Now that my family’s paying tens of thousands of dollars for my education, I can’t afford to screw up, and my self treatment isn’t cutting it, but I can’t seem to tell anyone what I’m feeling, and I don’t want to. I have an incredible poker face so it’s unlikely anyone will ever notice, so what can I do to help myself?

A. I would concur with your assessment that your attempts to help yourself “[aren't] cutting it.” The proof is that your depression symptoms remain present. I admire your continued efforts to help yourself but it is important to recognize when those attempts are not working and to be willing to seek help from a professional. The latter should be your next step.

It’s not clear from your letter why you are reluctant to seek help. You might fundamentally believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness or that you “should” be able to solve your own problems. That type of mindset can be self-destructive in that it often leads to prolonged suffering. It is also an inefficient approach to problem-solving.

In the American culture, many people find it perfectly acceptable to seek medical attention when they are experiencing physical health symptoms. That same logic should be applied in cases of mental health symptoms.

It is obvious that you are suffering. You can begin to end your suffering by seeing a mental health professional. Virtually all college campuses have mental health professionals on staff to help their students. I would advise that you make an appointment as soon as possible with a mental health professional. Seeking professional help would be the most efficient and responsible way to handle your situation. I hope that you agree with my assessment and are able to receive the help that you deserve. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Jan 2012

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2012). Depressed and Self-Help Is not Enough. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/01/12/depressed-and-self-help-is-not-enough/