How do stoics deal with depression?

The word depression is, nowadays, used in two popular meanings. The first one is related to great sadness. When someone is profoundly sad we say that person is depressed. The other meaning is related to an illness that could be originated by psychological events or by chemical deficits in the body.

The line between the two kinds is really thin, and most of us don’t have the expertise to tell one from another. The worst aspect about that is most times when someone says he or she is depressed we tend to imagine the first scenario, and if it is indeed the second, we endanger neglecting the person´s needs.

Great sadness

The first meaning for depression and also very popular is used as a substitute for “great sadness”. If someone´s husband dies, it is only natural that the person experiences sadness, and sometimes even great sadness. 

That’s the kind the stoics would say we should try to cheer up, try to get to accept and move on. But it’s also the kind stoics believe we should withdraw from if necessary because they consider sadness to be ‘contagious’, and that’s not a feeling stoicism would consider legitimate.

From the stoic point of view, everything that happens was meant to be and therefore should be accepted with a peaceful heart. Notice, they don´t say that it should be accepted without sorrow because, like I said before, it is only natural.

However, there are some people that get stuck in this situation. They feel comfortable being a victim of fate. They usually get the attention they want and also have the excuses needed to explain their miseries and failures.

Being sick

Psychological events (traumas) can trigger this illness which has symptoms besides profound sadness, mainly a lack of interest in life, food, getting out of bed. The person behaves as if there was no purpose in life. It usually requires medications to increase levels of body chemicals and lots of therapy.

This sort of illness can also happen due to a lack of hormone and other chemicals in our body (such as serotonin or vitamin B12). This is the easiest to treat once identified. There are supplements that if taken regularly will keep the person well.

In these two are conditions the person doesn’t have the opportunity to choose. The person suffers from it, simple as that. Usually they don’t even realize they are depressed, let alone look for help. 

This second kind is the one Stoics believe we can contribute with our love and presence. They believe that what is good for the soul is good for the body and therefore, feeling the love and care of a friend should be excellent medicine. 

We shall not be naïve to think it will be enough. My friend Anna had a great disappointment in her life years ago. She would not shower, or get up from bed, she didn’t want to see anyone, she would not even eat properly. She was staying at her moms and Anna had a 2-year-old boy, which made the situation even more concerning.

One day, her mother dragged Anna to a doctor and as she thought, Anna was diagnosed with depression probably originated by that disappointment (PTSD). 

Friends would take shifts taking care of her, taking her out to eat, to see the ocean. They were concerned, and their love was important to help Anna recover from that condition. 

That´s a kind of need that meets the human purpose, to serve the other: to be compassionate and understanding. But most of all, a stoic would not be imprudent by treating a condition like that as something unimportant. Until you don´t know if this is a case of profound sadness or depression, it is time for assistance.