Is Depression Really “Just In Your Head?”


“It’s all in your head.”

Have you ever heard those words? Sometimes they come from a Mother’s mouth when she is trying to calm down a frantic child fretting over the latest disease that WebMd said they had.  Maybe they’ve come from a boss who is having a hard time believing that you’re “sick” for the fifth time this week. Maybe you’ve heard them from a loved one assuring you that ghosts certainly don’t exist.

Either way, at some point in your life you’ve watched the words fly off of someone’s tongue directly into your ear canal. What was your first thought? I can almost guarantee you that at least one of these phrases crossed through your brainwaves:

  1. “You just don’t understand…”
  2. “Will you just listen to me?”
  3. “No one really cares…”

It’s an often occurrence for those dealing with depression, or any mental illness, to hear “it’s all in your head.” The mental illness stigma has assuredly been created by the belief that all of our misplaced longings, hopes, and dreams aren’t as bad as they seem. This makes it increasingly difficult for the ill to speak their minds, understand their hearts, and motivate their soul to action.

Contrary to popular belief, depression is not “just in your head.” I fully believe that depression starts in your heart and journeys its way into your mind.

Here’s the equation that I’ve arrived at after spending three semesters in a counseling class and working through my own issues.

Circumstances ⇒ Emotions ⇒ Behavior ⇒ Thoughts = Desires

Allow me to explain:

Our circumstances, on a daily basis, affect our emotions. Right? We wake up and go to work, as we usually do, but this time we get to the office and the boss immediately finds his way to our desk. He begins his typical tirade and before you know it, your day is ruined. Your circumstances affect your emotions.

Our emotions then affect our behaviors. Due to our boss’ blow-up, we find ourselves angry and un-motivated. That day, instead of being productive, we’re caught in our thoughts analyzing whether or not our boss was right. Either that or we make our way over to our co-workers desk and make sure that they know that we’re angry. Do you agree that our emotions drive our behavior?

Our behavior, then, doesn’t necessarily drive our thoughts; rather, they reveal them. If you were to watch people for any given amount of time, you would probably notice patterns that they go through. You may begin to notice body language, tone of voice, or even the words said. You will quickly pick up on the fact that someone’s behavior reveals what they think. Based off of your reaction to the boss’ tirade, I can almost guarantee that you thought that what he said had no merit or foundation. I could almost say that if you’re willing to verbally assault, or “bad mouth”, the boss behind his back, you didn’t think highly of him in the first place. You can learn about what someone thinks by their actions.

Finally, your thoughts will ultimately, on a deeper level, reveal your deepest desires. Maybe you think that you could do your boss’ job much better than he can. You’ve been hoping for that promotion for a long time but now it seems like all of your hope is lost. Your reaction is indicative of frustration, sorrow, and maybe even self loathing. Your greatest desires can be found by following this formula.

My ultimate point in saying all of that is this: Your, and my, depression is not rooted in our heads. Our minds only provide the trunk of our “depression tree.” The root of our illness? It’s in our heart.

The foundation of our depression is rooted in misplaced hope

Of all of the years I’ve been dealing with, hearing about, and counseling some through depression, the underlying cause has always been this: misplaced hope in a person. The depression was brought on by a painful circumstance, maybe rejection for instance, which then changed their emotions, behavior, thoughts, and then revealed their deepest desires.

We were not created to bear the burden of other people’s lifelong hope. That’s an incredibly weighty task and I fully believe that it’s not mine to carry out. I also believe that it’s not yours either.

We are relational beings. We were created by a relational God. I fully believe that He made us with inherent longings for relationships with other people and that He won’t fulfill those Himself. We were also created to worship God with all of our soul. Sin, unfortunately, messed all of that up.

Where we go wrong is when we make other people, or things, an idol. We place all of our expectation and hope into someone or something. The truth of the matter is that people are fallible. They mess up. We screw things up. You make mistakes and so do I. It’s no wonder that we fall into a depression when someone fails us. We were inadvertently expecting them to be something they were never created for. We were expecting them to be God.

In no way am I undermining someone’s circumstances. I’ve gone through incredible relational pain but I’ve ultimately realized that it’s because I’ve misplaced my hope. I poured my heart into something that wasn’t made for it. It’s almost like trying to pour lava into a glacier. Neither were made for each other and sooner or later, the ice is going to melt.

Circumstances->Emotions->Behavior->Thoughts->Desires

What do you think? Is depression really in your heart or do you think that there’s something more? What about God? Do you think that we were made with a longing for relationships? Leave a Confession of your own down below in the comments. Thank you for reading!

14 Replies to “Is Depression Really “Just In Your Head?””

  1. “The foundation of our depression is rooted in misplaced hope”
    Very powerful statement. I’m not sure I’m on-board 100% with that expression, but I can certainly see how “misplaced hope” could feed depression. Whether it is the “foundation” … very viable concept, but I will have to investigate it more on my own 🙂
    And there remains the question where-from comes the “misplaced hope”? For me it most definitely originates in my mostly-forgotten childhood and the abuse that happened during that time. But “misplaced” or “missing” altogether … another question I have yet to answer.
    This is a very important post and I am more than grateful for you sharing it. A lot here to digest.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think what I was really getting at is the effect that sin has had on the entire world, including our brains and hearts. Our misplaced hope comes from searching for God in all of the wrong things. For myself, I tried to find my hope in people. When people failed me I realized I had placed my hope in the wrong thing because only God can satisfy my inner longings. Does that clarify a little bit? I really wish my brain could process every detail I mean to write but I always forget something lol.

      Thank you for reading and the kind words, my friend!

      Like

      1. Something I’m learning is that sometimes we just need to take a break from beating ourselves up and rest in Jesus. I’m so tired of being angry for not being perfect or not hoping perfectly. Maybe we just need to crawl in Jesus’ arms and cry? I long for that kind of embrace.

        Like

  2. I wonder how much of a role genetics plays and how much is circumstances. I was reading how even things that happen in childhood are connected to depression later in life (which I get, but thought it was still kinda interesting to have that impact so far removed from the events).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve learned that as well! It’s amazing how a childhood shapes someone’s potential to experience depressogenic tendencies later in life. If I’m ever counseling someone I typically start with their childhood. Our thoughts, actions, and beliefs are molded during this time and I can definitely see it play out in my life. The connections are fun to make.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think that when it comes to mental illness, we cannot simply look at relationships or desires. There is a physiological component as well as spiritual. As a person who struggles with bipolar disorder, I’ve struggled, at times, with depression that didn’t seem to stem from any particular circumstance. I always felt like it was Satan attacking me in a physical and psychological way, messing with my brain chemistry. Call me crazy, but II believe that can happen.

    As far as the equation goes, I feel like if you can change your thought patterns, you can change your emotions, which in turn change your behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. See, there’s always something that I end up missing. lol. You reminded me and I’m glad you did! The physiologic component is most definitely there and active. I also believe that it can happen. We know that he is actively seeking to mess up and destroy anything that God seeks to use for good, including our minds!
      So, you’re more of a cognitive therapy approach? Nothing wrong with that at all!

      Liked by 1 person

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