Finding Your Way Back to the Light: Addressing Depression and Anger

If you experience a major depressive episode, it can seem as though all the light in the world could never lift the gloom surrounding you. When you couple that with the anger that often accompanies depression, it can make it even more difficult to recover.

Making sense of depression.

Depression is a mood disorder and a diagnosable mental health disorder; it is not simply what you feel when you’re going through a tough time. If a person feels sad after the loss of a loved one or another personal tragedy, that is to be expected and is a natural way for a person to deal with those events.

Depression may look like this form of sadness, but it is also combined with issues such as having trouble sleeping or struggling with concentration. To be diagnosed with depression or major depressive disorder, a mental health professional will apply criteria laid out by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).

The DSM-5 says that for such a diagnosis, specific symptoms such as loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities like work or time with loved ones should be present for at least two weeks.

Other symptoms that can cause impairment in daily functioning must be present for a diagnosis of depression. Some of these include:

  • Significant and unintentional changes in your appetite and weight.
  • Feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, or excessive guilt.
  • Experiencing brain fog, or the diminished ability to think or concentrate, and being uncharacteristically indecisive.

It is important to remember that symptoms of depression don’t look the same or follow the same pattern for everyone. There are multiple other symptoms a professional will look for that make up the criteria.

Why are depression and anger often connected?

Depression often presents as feelings of deep sadness or apathy. However, a depressive episode doesn’t look the same for everyone who experiences it. For men, for example, the symptoms of a depressive episode, such as feelings of unworthiness and helplessness can translate into an increase in anger and irritability. Essentially, the sadness ignites the anger in some.  That anger may be directed at events from your past, at yourself, or it may not have an object at all.

Maladaptive anger is at times present when a person has a depressive episode, and that anger may be turned either inward as one listens to their inner critic, or outwardly as angry outbursts, being irritable, or snapping at people.

Going through a depressive episode is hard enough but adding anger into the equation can harm your relationships at a time when those relationships are needed most to provide emotional ballast. But why are depression and the maladaptive anger that frequently manifests as irritability, hostility, and anger outbursts often connected in this way?

For one thing, there is some evidence to suggest that serotonergic dysfunction (an imbalance of neurochemicals in your brain) may be partly to blame. This imbalance leads to irritability, depression, and anger, and that’s why the medications that are used to treat depression such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) may also help to relieve your symptoms of anger over time.

Gender can also play a role in the connection between anger and depression. As noted, it is common for men to experience maladaptive anger during a depressive episode. The National Institute of Mental Health has noted that men may be less likely to talk about their experience of depression, choosing instead to mask symptoms as well as their emotions.

The result of this is an increase in anger, aggressiveness, and hostility. These maladaptive strategies for regulating one’s emotions aren’t limited only by gender, but other factors may play a role, such as age, culture, and whether there is a history of trauma and abuse.

Experiencing abuse or neglect in childhood can contribute to feelings of unresolved anger, and if there are any internalized feelings of helplessness and worthlessness that stem from adverse childhood experiences, which can lead a person to redirect their anger toward themselves. These feelings can then fuel shame, harsh self-criticism, and self-punishment which often co-occur with a depressive episode.

Addressing depression and anger

To begin with, if you suspect you may be struggling with symptoms of depression, you should first get screened by a medical or mental health professional who can provide an assessment of your life history and the severity of your symptoms.

If the screening results in a diagnosis of depression, the good news is that there are several ways to treat depression, including medication and psychotherapy. Therapy can address both depression and the anger that can accompany it.

To deal with maladaptive anger, several strategies can be employed in therapy, and these include managing the triggers of your anger to help you cope in the meantime as you grow in handling anger better, learning to accept your anger and express it in healthy ways, and alleviating anger before it gets worse.

Part of the treatment plan that your therapist may recommend include therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which challenges and reframes angry reactions and the unwanted thought patterns that stem from depression.

Interpersonal Therapy teaches you strategies to help you address and communicate anger and other difficult feelings that affect your relationships; Psychodynamic Therapy, which can help you explore the sources of anger and depression; and Emotionally Focused Therapy, which can help transform maladaptive emotions by addressing their root cause.

In addition to therapy, your therapist may recommend a referral for medication, which can alleviate the symptoms of depression, including anger.

Finding the light when you’re feeling depressed and angry.

Depression is a serious mental health challenge, but thankfully there is hope to overcome it. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2020, an estimated 14.8 million U.S. adults aged eighteen or older had at least one major depressive episode with severe impairment in the past year. This number represented 6% of all U.S. adults.

People from all walks of life and different backgrounds are affected, whether directly or otherwise, by mental health issues. Christians aren’t immune from these realities. The Lord in His goodness has provided the means to address these challenges in both His Word and with the support of His Church. Though we may walk through a dark valley and struggle to see the light of God’s goodness, we can say with the Psalmist,

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.Psalms 77:11-12, NIV

There’s no need to feel ashamed about reaching out to others for help in dealing with anger and depression. Reach out and ask for help, as doing so will provide you with space to improve your relationships and health.

If you struggle with anger and depression, seek out a mental health professional for help. They can walk with you and provide you with guidance along your path toward finding joy and light in your life again. Don’t hesitate to make an appointment to begin making that journey toward wholeness and healing.

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