Depression can erode vitality and motivation, especially for creative people.

And shutting off our need for creative expression, not honoring this key aspect of who we really are, can itself be profoundly depressing.

In the article “The mind, as it evolves – Depression as a survival tool?” by Julia M. Klein, psychiatrist J. Anderson Thomson Jr. talks about treating an 18-year-old college freshman he describes as “intensely depressed, feeling suicidal and doing self-cutting.”

The article notes, “He decided that her symptoms might be a way of signaling her unhappiness to people close to her. He discovered that his client’s parents had pressured her to attend the university and major in science, even though her real interest lay in the arts.”

What sort of depression?

It may be very helpful to distinguish what kind of depression we are experiencing – whether it is a “reasonable” reaction to a life event, or a more enduring existential depression, for example.

In her Psych Central post Defining Depression (the ‘Gifts of Depression’ Re-visited), Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar asks a number of stimulating questions, such as: “Do only the professional jargon or the clinical classifications and terms count? Or is there space for your story, your approach alongside that, too?… is there any place for re-defining the way you describe your depression sometimes?”

Elizabeth Wurtzel [photo], author of Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America: A Memoir, and now a graduate of Yale Law School, has written about self-cutting: one of the behaviors she and many others have used to deal with mental health challenges including depression.

“Cutting is the loneliest and most embarrassing experience, but once you talk about it you discover how many people have done the same thing,” she said.

In addition to Wurtzel, other public figures that have reportedly engaged in self-injury include Shirley Manson, Angelina Jolie, Christina Ricci, Princess Diana, Johnny Depp, Courtney Love and Fiona Apple.

Apple wrote on her official site: “As you may know, I am a girl prone to low-days. I don’t know how many times I got to soundcheck, in a grumpy nasty, teary rut…” In her song Extraordinary machine, the lyrics include: “But I’m good at being uncomfortable so I can’t stop changing all the time…”

[From my Women and Talent site post Depression and creativity: Fiona Apple – good at being uncomfortable.]

Wurtzel is also author of Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, and commented, “All of these women [in the book] were fighting to find a little bit of freedom to be who they are, and I don’t think the results have been especially good for them. And I hope that the answer is not that we have to learn how to behave…

“People thinking that Sylvia Plath was a poor, sensitive poet, are not getting that she had great amounts of ambition and anger that moved her along, or she wouldn’t have been able to fight against that depression to produce such an incredible body of work by the age of thirty.”

Hopefully there are more resources and understanding available now to deal with depression.

But writer Cat Robson warns about too readily using psychiatric medication as depression relief:

“The mental suffering of sensitive, creative and divergent children and adults is real. Existential depression, loneliness, and emotional overload are very real, as are the complications arising from our use of behaviors and substances to alleviate our suffering.

“These experiences don’t require a diagnosis of mental illness in order to be taken seriously. And treating our suffering doesn’t need to include tampering with our highly sensitive brains.”

From her post Giftedness, sensitivity and psychiatric drugs: why do we take them and why do we quit?