Mistaking Depression for Other Things

creative natalie dormer

Lately there have been a lot of searches on this blog about depression, so let’s talk about it, shall we?

The definition of depression is “sadness greater and more prolonged than warranted by any objective reason.”

In lay terms, that means feeling sad for a long time but not understanding why, since there is no reason to be depressed (we haven’t lost our job, our pet didn’t die, and we’re not contemplating how much the world sucks). With genuine depression, I believe there are always legitimate reasons either physical or emotional — although they may be subtle and internalized to such an extent that we’re either ignorant of them or unwilling to face them. These kinds of depression can be cured through therapy. Then, there’s depression brought on by imbalanced serotonin levels, which can be treated with medicine.

However, I also think “depression” is often used to explain moods that put us in a state of “emptiness” or “a lack of ambition.” Quiet and contemplative moods don’t always mean “sadness,” which means some things we call depression aren’t necessarily genuine depression. Every type no doubt has this problem, but here are some things we may mistake for “depression”:

  • Intellectual boredom: with people, hobbies, and things that they’ve exhausted for interesting information with a resulting a lack of interest in those things. Losing interest in things is one of the “symptoms” of depression, but here it simply means you’re bored with that topic, since you’ve analyzed it to death. Solution: a new and exciting “interest” is needed.
  • Reluctance to do anything: once an INTP fails to see the purpose of something (a hobby, interest, or pursuit), they have a hard time sticking to it. Why? Because it fails to produce the desired results. They may try blogging to create stimulating conversation and if no one answers them, it isn’t depression that makes them reluctant to blog again, it’s the lack of feedback that renders blogging undesirable. Solution: give it up and find something to do that supports a “long term goal.”
  • Nothingness: this isn’t sadness, it’s not feeling anything, which may mean the brain is subconsciously working on an over-reaching problem while consciously they’re not interested in much of anything. This can also be a symptom of depression… or of internal preoccupation. Solution: find a different and maybe mindless activity to focus on in the meantime.
  • Creative Frustration: a lack of ambition following hitting a creative “block.” This “total shutdown” of creativity means the INTP has run across a problem and hasn’t solved it yet, so the brain shuts off its creativity while analyzing for creative solutions. This can produce a lack of a desire to continue working on the project, and an element of frustrated “uselessness” that can masquerade as sadness but is in reality irritation. Solution: focus on another project for awhile and let the first one sit until Intuition problem-solves it.
  • Emotional Exhaustion: INTPs think. All the time. They rationalize and analyze and constantly ask “why?” and take in obscene amounts of information that can sometimes “short them out,” like a computer overload. It’s not permanent, so there’s no need to panic. Solution: take some time off.

Symptoms of depression such as crying can also mean hormones out of whack, extensive stress, and deep-seated internal frustration… it’s not always sadness, so occasional forays into tears don’t mean you’re depressed.

Can an INTP get depressed? Yes. Everyone can, no matter their type. But sometimes, we mistake other, natural aspects of our personalities for depression, when in reality all we need to do is turn our focus in another direction and rediscover our passion for learning.

15 thoughts on “Mistaking Depression for Other Things

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  1. Your key note say’s everything Charity, “— although they may be subtle and internalized to such an extent that we’re either ignorant of them or unwilling to face them.” Their problem lies in front of a person or seems not to, whether they can acknowledge it or not. A big problem is not facing it (denial) and no looking for a solution(s), this fact is Big. Also some use what is called “scapegoat.” A lot of people fear to acknowledge they are their “own enemies.” Although, there’s people who control and inflict someone else pain. These are external and internal factors that seem to cause depression. Yet, if you ask me -all form of depression(s) is internal. External is a byproduct – “dogma.” This is not a topic I should go into. On the other hand, people don’t feel they have control over their destiny.

    P.S. Self growth is a solution…

    This is all I would like to add. I don’t want to mix this pot….

    I hope this helps…

  2. This is reminding me of how I annoyed I get when I read things like “The patient entered into a year long depression following the death of her mother….” * gasp * Really?

    What’s interesting is that I think people often confuse all the items you listed above with genuine depression, or alternately, sometimes remain in denial about their depression, attributing it to any of the above, milder causes.

    A while ago I saw a post online, by someone who said that ever since a favorite video game of theirs was discontinued a couple of years back, they’d lost touch with both IRL and online fellow gamer friends, and just felt really listless, uninterested life, unable to focus on their job etc; But–they were sure everything would be alright again if they could find a new video game to get into! Um, no–if things are that bad, if something’s hit you that hard, you might want to reconsider if there’s a more serious reason behind it.

    Depression is a tricky issue–if I hadn’t had experience with it myself I’d probably be skeptical of it being a “real” issue. As for depression being more common in modern society (as mentioned in earlier comments) I actually wouldn’t be so sure. Back in the 18th-19th century, there were people described as being of a perpetually “melancholy humor”, so it might just be a case of lack of diagnosis.

    Wait–INTJs are most prone to depression? I thought that was INFJs, with INFPs coming up next? Interesting figures though.

    I have read that people who are isolated are more prone to depression, but I also think having friends/family could lead to depression going undiagnosed. People with a busy life just continue going through the motions, and hesitate to bring up their problems because they don’t want to burden those around them.

    You totally ought to write that post about INTJs and religion! 😉

    1. I can’t even comment on the video game thing. Clearly, if the discontinuation of a game causes you that much internal angst and turmoil, priorities need to be reorganized.

      There’s genuine depression and faux depression. I’ve had both.

      Every type is prone to depression, but probably for different reasons. Feelers get depressed for emotional reasons, and Thinkers get depressed because they can’t rule the universe. 😉

      Writing a post about religion and the INTJ would be like sticking a giant “kick me” sign on my internet back. I’m not ready to leap into that yet.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I too suffer from periods of depression/anxiety. I’ve read and truly believe that artists (i.e. writers) are prone to depression. Its part of our creative make up. Look at King David in the Bible, who was a poet/song writer. A man after God’s own heart and he was often in emotional pain. Anyway, thanks again for posting about this.

    1. I think the more creative you are, the more likely you will be prone to depression — as you said. I’ve noticed that my moods directly tie into my creativity levels — if I’ve had a good day of writing, I’m happy! If I haven’t had any success, I’m melancholy and miserable.

    2. The mental delicacy of genius is something my family and I keep coming back to… we tend to talk and talk ourselves in circles when that comes up! One of the dilemmas we’ve always had is whether the genius mind is just differently wired from “normal” minds, towards mental illness or depression, or whether investing so much mind space in your art (rather than social interaction/everyday life/varied activity) actually causes the emotional and mental turmoil.

      Some autistic or dyslexic people, for example, will frequently find outlets to display incredible intelligence in one area or another. These individuals frequently thrive in their art, and their art actually benefits the rest of their mind and gives their life balance. On the other hand you find artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Seraphine Louis who, as they became increasingly vested and committed to their work, fell into mental illness that, as far as we know, was previously either non-existent or very mild until brought out by the constant practice of their art. For these people, plunging themselves into their art actually hurt the rest of their psyche, and (seemingly) ruined their lives outside their art.

      Some find themselves in their art; others lose themselves in it. I wonder where the difference lies that causes the drastically opposing outcomes. :/

      1. Someone once told me that we’re all varying degrees of mentally insane — how sane we are therefore is tied to how close we are to living in reality. If that’s true, the people who “live outside reality” (possibly by ultra-focusing on just one thing — like art) may be more easily pushed over the edge into “insanity” because of their lack of a connection to the real world. But as to whether or not creativity causes this, or unstable people pursue creative outlets, I don’t know.

  4. Interestingly, I just wrote a paper on this after reading in a few places that INTJs had the greatest propensity of the MBTIs to have clinical depression. Lots of thoughts here. And perhaps we may have different perspectives.

    I would agree that many misdiagnose themselves with disorders based on scant symptoms. However, instead of using a simple dictionary definition for a complex topic, the following DSM-V will objectively discern if one truly has depression (5 or more):
    1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
    2. Diminished interest or pleasure
    3. Weight loss/weight gain
    4. Insomnia/hypersomnia
    5. Fatigue or loss of energy
    7. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
    8. Diminished ability to think or concentrate
    9. Recurrent thoughts of death

    This is also a BASIC definition as I didn’t want to type out my whole DSM-V section. If their symptoms qualify for it, they have it, whether or not they have the wrong strategic solutions. It’s like telling someone they don’t suffer from obesity because they can be doing something other than watching TV and eating potato chips. True, they could fix their issues, but that doesn’t preclude them from objectively being obese.

    On a personal level, I chose to write a paper on this because I did not understand how so many people could seemingly be depressed. About 7% of the population has major depressive disorder and it’s now the most diagnosed disorder in the U.S. It befuddled me, especially seeing INTJs with depression. However, I can rationalize it. And I’m going to get a little spiritual, so I hope you don’t mind. As INTJs are so purpose oriented, what is the point of doing anything really if it’s not in the context of God? I’m guessing that INTJs may also have the lowest propensity to believe in God. So if we already see the end and strategize before we start anything, this will create a lack of motivation and decreased energy. For example, what would be the point of me working my ass off to get a million bucks if I know a million bucks won’t make me happy? Or sex? Or drugs? Or even creativity? If there is no intrinsic purpose, what is the point of doing anything? I wondered if I had not discovered the core truth of life, Jesus, if I would have symptoms for major depressive disorder. I know myself well enough that I would try every combination of hedonism, and in hindsight it would be to no avail.

    If it wasn’t for your faith do you think you’d be depressed?

    Just thoughts. Love your blog and insight.


    1. My theory on why true depression is so rampant in modern society is that our society is now more godless than ever before — if there is no God, and no right and wrong, what is our purpose in existence or even in suffering? There is none. There’s no hope — particularly in an economy that is in the toilet, where many people can’t get jobs or just barely make a living. It’s a stewing pot with a lot of different ingredients with the result of mass depression.

      It’s true, they claim that INTJs are the least-likely to believe in God. This, to me, simply means they haven’t yet considered all the evidence, since it’s easier to believe in God than to disprove His existence. But you do make a good point — if there is no purpose in anything we do, why do it? Why even exist?

      Despite my faith, I’ve had periods of intense depression. I’m not sure what caused them but I’ve “been there, done that.” It wasn’t fun.

      1. Thanks for writing back. Assuming I live to a normal age, the next 50 years with the world (most likely) becoming more godless and stratified will be a scary and interesting place. I wouldn’t be surprised if happy people were classified with disorders. “Look at that weirdo with MHD (major happiness disorder)…he hasn’t been depressed in 9 months…what a loser.”

  5. 20 years ago, my understanding of depression was nil, and I recall that a friend (acquaintance, really) was telling me that another acquaintance was suffering from depression. My response, “What in the world does she have to be depressed about? Her life is perfect.” I was under the impression then (as are many people still) that if you didn’t have a reason to be depressed, then you shouldn’t be depressed. I was clueless to the fact that chemical imbalances in the brain can be as responsible for our moods as our circumstances can be.

    1. What is really a shame is that there’s such stigmata in Christian groups about depression. We left one church because the pastor got up and preached a sermon about how depression stems from “unresolved sins in our lives.” Um, no. That may be the case for one person, but not the next — chemical imbalances factor in heavily, and some people can’t just pray, repent, and get over it. (Sheila Walsh is a good example. She has to take medication for her deep depression or she literally becomes irrational and suicidal.)

      I have theories on depression. I think they basically boil down to four things:

      a) real, negative circumstances in your life (death, loss)
      b) subconscious disappointment (reality doesn’t live up to what you wanted from life)
      c) chemical imbalances (which you can’t help)
      d) mistaking other moods / creative slumps FOR depression

    1. That’s possible, except when the problem or root of the perceived depression can’t be solved by organization and planning. (For example, you can’t magically make yourself be creative if creative blockage is part of the problem. You can only come up with a strategy that may or may not work.)

      >> Extraverted Thinking* – (Te)

      Contingency planning, scheduling, and quantifying utilize the process of extraverted Thinking.

      Extraverted Thinking helps us organize our environment and ideas through charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, outlines, and so on.

      At its most sophisticated, this process is about organizing and monitoring people and things to work efficiently and productively.

      Empirical thinking is at the core of extraverted Thinking when we challenge someone’s ideas based on the logic of the facts in front of us or lay out reasonable explanations for decisions or conclusions made, often trying to establish order in someone else’s thought process.

      In written or verbal communication, extraverted Thinking helps us easily follow someone else’s logic, sequence, or organization.

      It also helps us notice when something is missing, like when someone says he or she is going to talk about four topics and talks about only three.

      In general, it allows us to compartmentalize many aspects of our lives so we can do what is necessary to accomplish our objectives.

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