Dear Peak Shrink,
Just a quick note to say that I just found your site and I think it is a wonderful resource – I will be pointing a number of people towards it. I have been aware of Peak Oil since the UK oil blockades of 2000 and now feel as at peace with it as one can (I now have a job directly working to ameliorate the problems of this and climate change) but I also know only too well the mental and emotional challenges of the ‘awakening’. Might I just add one little insight?
I have a little experience and understanding of depression, and one key thing for me was that depression generally brings with it the illusion that the dark lens through which the depressed person witnesses the world shows THE TRUTH, and that no-one else can see it or truly understand this truth. I think one of the key factors with Peak Oil is that people really are seeing something real (and potentially depressing) that others genuinely do not perceive (for whatever reason). This can lead to the depressive illusion described above – and so the depression itself – being reinforced, and hence make any kind of positive action even more difficult. I don’t imagine this is news to your good selves, and I don’t feel I have expressed it too clearly, but I thought I’d share
Best wishes in your important work.
Dear Depressive Illusion,
Thank you for your comment. It is indeed true that depression itself can impact the view one has on reality, distorting it greatly. It is important to keep in mind that an awareness of Peak Oil isn’t any buffer to mental illness.
Just because you are aware of Peak Oil doesn’t mean you AREN’T crazy.
The difference between feeling upset (sad, bummed out) about Peak Oil and becoming depressed is not fully understood and few mental health professionals are even aware of PO. We know that depression is a constellation of symptoms that affect mood, such as feeling chronically sad, worthless or guilty, even having suicidal thoughts; behavioral symptoms such as withdrawal or agitation; cognitive symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating or making decisions, lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, lethargy (feeling tired); and somatic or physical symptoms such as not sleeping or sleeping too much, altered appetite or body weight. Symptoms must be experienced for at least 2 weeks for diagnosis of “clinical” types of depression. Depressive disorders may go unrecognized and be viewed as work, school, interpersonal problems (or awareness of the end of the world as we know it?). Manic depression symptoms and cyclothymic depression symptoms include the above during the depression phase alternating with mania symptoms of high energy, euphoria, distractibility, poor judgment, and sleeplessness.
For many of you new to the Peak Oil community, this list reads like your current life circumstance, doesn’t it? And few people are able to recover from the shock of Peak Oil in under two weeks, at least from the response of my readers. So what separates out those who are suffering from “clinical depression,” and those suffering from the shock of finding out about Peak Oil? At least initially, not much. For those who have written to me, they write about many of these symptoms listed above in varying intensity. Over time, however, many start making adjustments in their world views and expectations for the future. They take a ‘hit,’ and gradually begin to figure out where to go from there. How long is “normal” recovery and how long is “abnormal”? We don’t know.
Clearly, any behavior that permanently takes you “out of the game,” (suicide) or thoughts of suicide as a “solution” is clearly an indication that the person needs professional help. Most people who have unsuccessfully attempted suicide are glad they failed, and recovery from their depression led to happier lives. Feelings that there was “no other viable alternative” but suicide vanished and were recognized as cognitive distortions brought on by the depressive illness itself. If you feel suicidal, seek help from a trained professional. If you know someone who talks about suicide, take it very seriously. Most people who were successful at suicide did tell someone about their intentions ahead of time.
There are many psychological theories of depression, but one bit of promising research suggests that even those suffering from depression that didn’t lift with professional help did lose many of their complaints when they (1) contributed to work they felt was meaningful and (2) had peers they began to socialize with, that sympathized and understood their condition–in this study it was other depressed individuals. Rather than thinking of depression as a “noun” (a “thing” or “state”), it is helpful to think about it as a “verb.” You are “being depressed” at this point in time. It can change. It isn’t a part of who you are, it is a transient mood.
Learning to “think differently” in a clinical setting shouldn’t mean learning to “take your mind off of Peak Oil” or “think happy thoughts.” It means learning to recognize patterns of thinking that leaves you feeling hopeless and helpless. You can learn how to alter problematic sleep patterns or to improve your diet. Some in the Peak Oil community might believe there is “nothing” that can be done to avert the energy descent, but this is not the same as having depression. They may hold this belief but still take active steps to improve their own chances for survival. They might believe in the hopelessness of the world’s energy situation, but not their own hopelessness and helplessness.
Depression is often cyclical for many people and will often go into remission even without intervention. However, no one needs to wait around to feel better. There are many useful cognitive techniques that have been proven quite affective in treating the symptoms long-term. Anti-depressive medication is a faster but more temporary solution. If you are (understandably) wary of the pharmaceutical industry, there are a number of alternative treatments that may be helpful to you. Call on an herbalist/wholistic medicine practitioner, a massage therapist, a chiropractor or a religious leader. You don’t have to “live with” depression. There are many steps you can take.
You can be correct about Peak Oil, and be suffering from a clinical depression. These are not mutually exclusive. If you are having trouble eating or sleeping, if you find yourself withdrawing from those closest to you, and feeling hopeless and helpless for prolonged periods of time, get help. Learning how to cope with the shock and emotional crisis of Peak Oil awareness, and keeping yourself functional and flexible, will be an essential lesson in adaptation. If you aren’t able to do it yourself, work with someone who can train you to recognize destructive thought patterns and belief systems.
Get off website chatrooms that have people telling you to “kill yourself,” or insult you when you report feeling depressed or hopeless. If you are feeing this way, and there is no site monitor to bounce these jokers off the site, it isn’t a safe place for you at this point. Put in a written protest of such verbal abuse as your “swan song” (last post) and sign off.
I’d also suggest taking an internet holiday at least once a day per week, and maybe for a week or more if you find yourself depressed. Get out and get physically active. Take in a movie. Have coffee with a friend. Your friend doesn’t have to agree with you about Peak Oil to be supportive to you when you are feeling blue. Make Peak Oil an “off limits” subject if you must, to improve your time with them. While it may be difficult, it is important to listen to the people around you, who know and care for you when they give you feedback about your behavior. If they are listing the symptoms of depression to you, pay attention to them and take action.
This is a difficult topic to talk about as a mental health professional because I don’t want to engage in psychological terrorism. The fears, worries about the future, and feelings of helplessness when finding out about Peak Oil are real, and you have legitimate reasons for feeling this way. However, if you find yourself remaining paralyzed, and caught in the symptoms listed above, and people you respect are telling you they are worried about your behavior or mood, pay attention to them. Help is out there. And Peak Oil will look differently when you are no longer depressed and feel ready to take constructive action.