Could anything good come out of depression?

Depression isn't something that you'll ever choose to go through, but for those who have, it can be an experience that helps you develop and grow as a person.

Back of girl's head as she stands in a garden in sunshine

It's awful now, but you won't feel this way forever.

Official figures show that a quarter of us will suffer from depression at some point in our lives. Depression can be mild, moderate or severe, and be due to various factors, such as the environment you live in, tragedy and personal loss. But is it all bad? Is there a positive side to being depressed?

You can beat depression

Mathilda, 22, suffered from depression but has managed to get through it.

She began to notice she was feeling depressed when she was 14, had changed schools, and was finding it hard to make friends. “I would go home and spend the entire afternoon and evening on the computer by myself. I had no close friends and I was certain my parents hated me. I spent most of my time feeling miserable and alone. By then I’d sworn to myself that I would stop having emotions and that I would just create a shell to hide under.”

Things came to a head after her mother found her crying one day and suggested that she go and see a psychologist for CBT. “I don’t think I ever received a formal diagnosis, but my psychologist said it was likely that I suffered from depression and social anxiety.

“Now I feel I know myself far better than before. Most of the time I feel I can do almost anything if I apply myself hard enough and that failure doesn’t reflect on me as a person, or mean that what I’m attempting is impossible,” says Matilda. “Another thing I’ve noticed is that I appreciate things so much more; even small acts of kindness from other people make me feel pleased.

“I’ve also stopped taking everything as seriously as I did – I’ve made some mistakes but now my outlook is to learn from them and move on. I’ve overcome many obstacles and I keep adding to my list of things that make me proud of myself. I make sure I don’t forget to remind myself regularly of all the positive stuff I’ve done. It’s helped me to be the best I can be.”

Why depression could be good for you

As Matilda’s story shows, not only can you beat depression but you can learn about yourself from the experience.

There are various theories claiming that a bout of depression can be good for you. A recently published study of depression, The Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study (NEMESIS), used a sample of 165 people with clinical depression. The survey provided scientific evidence to suggest that depression is indeed helpful in the longer term. Researchers looked at people before illness to the period after recovery and found that the majority seemed to cope better with life’s trials after depression than they had done before.

Dr Paul Keedwell, an expert on mood disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, agrees with this theory. Having suffered from the condition in his 30s, he says that there are benefits to having depression, such as feeling tougher and more resilient afterwards. However, he doesn’t apply his theory to severe depression, which he says requires the intervention of a doctor (GP).

“Depression is a human reaction to help us get our lives back on track. It’s hard to believe that things will get better when you’re depressed, but they do – time is the most important healer,” says Baz, 22.

Matt, 24, doesn’t agree. “I know many people who have been made weaker by depression. The longer you deal with the depression, the worse it is. You fall into depression over smaller things.”

Is this supposed to make me feel better?

Depression can be so overwhelming that it’s hard to see the positive side of anything, let alone you’re depression itself. But it might be comforting to know that you, like Matilda, can get through your depression.

Keedwell maintains that many of his patients have found positives to having gone through gloom. “Don’t beat yourself up about being depressed,” he says. “In most cases it will run its course provided you take yourself out of the situation that caused it.”

The Greek philosopher Aristotle also thought depression to be of great value because of the insights it could bring. He believed that there’s an increased empathy in people who have, or have had, depression because they become more attuned to other people’s suffering.

Find out more about how to cope with depression.

Coping with depression

If you’re depressed then you should see your GP. They will help you get treatment, such as counselling or Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). Therapy, or simply working through your feelings with the support of loved ones, can help you find the strength to:

  • Admit that you have a problem in your life that needs addressing;
  • Change your career path or lifestyle;
  • Find creativity in your life or work;
  • Become more resilient;
  • Reach a goal;
  • See the world in a different light;
  • Become more empathetic of other people’s needs and moods;
  • Prioritise what is important to you;
  • Hold a belief that things happen for a reason.

Next Steps

  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • SANE offers support and information to people affected by mental illness. Call their helpline on 0300 304 7000, open 4:30pm - 10:30pm every day.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.



By Julia Pearlman

Updated on 29-Sep-2015

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