The effects of sadness and depression

“Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems.” –Sadness

The 2015 Pixar movie “Inside Out” is a bittersweet depiction of the internal workings of a pre-adolescent girl growing up and experiencing loss and change.

Computer generated characters represent each of 11-year-old Riley’s (the main character) emotions who “live” in her brain, including Joy, Anger, Disgust and Sadness. Initially the audience gravitates toward the character Joy, because her positive attitude and pep are more fun than the melancholy and depressing Sadness. But as the movie progresses, Sadness becomes the voice of reason, depressive much of the time, yet caring deeply, she realizes the importance of sadness, the natural emotion in the face of loss and the one that helps Riley appreciate loving bonds and return to her family.

Sadness the character isn’t very confident and ends up spending most of her time alone, reading “mind manuals”, a practice encouraged by her exuberant companion Joy. Her time reading provides Sadness with expert knowledge about the world outside and the inner workings of the mind, which ultimately proves useful in saving the main character Riley.

After many adventures in the mind of the young girl, it is Sadness, not Joy, who brings Riley to admit to her parents that she is missing their old home. Together Joy and Sadness allow Riley to create new memories that are both happy and sad, and Sadness is finally acknowledged by the other emotions as equally important.

So sadness is not an emotion to avoid, but rather to embrace and temper with joy and positive thinking.

But there are many people who suffer from an ongoing condition of sadness that is more intense, chronic, even clinical depression with anxiety, a legitimate and sometimes debilitating disease that can and should be treated with therapy and sometimes medication under the supervision of a physician.

Many of us have also had episodic bouts of depression, and others also suffer from a milder, underlying condition of depression that can be managed and improved with more physical activity, social support and positive outlets to reduce stress and connect with others.

But even the more severe depression can have a positive side according to Dr. Camille Merhi, a Resident in Psychiatry at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine.

I was fortunate to talk with Merhi about the important role of sadness, and even depression. Dr. Merhi has an interesting background. Originally from Lebanon, he also studied in Lithuania and now in the United States.

“Being in the Valley is a continuation of my own purpose in life, which is to help people smile! I feel very fortunate to be here, especially that this place shares a lot of great values with my home country. There, we are raised to appreciate family, honesty and solidarity as well.”

Merhi also shared his insight into the condition of depression, and even some of the benefits.

“So depression is ugly yes, but why do we keep falling into it if it does not have any benefits? Well, because, simply, it does and here are a few:

Time. It stops. Suddenly everything is just now. Suddenly, you are here, and tomorrow and yesterday seem so far away. Whether you choose to dwell on the past or worry about the future, it does not matter. You are in the present, because, either way, you don’t feel like escaping this specific moment. And that’s just divine — suddenly you can really feel!

Feeling. What do you feel? You feel more than anyone around you. An intense moment is coming where you will be special because you are about to experience what most people never have the chance, the genes, the brain or even the guts to experience. And that itself will show you things…

Creativity is enhanced. Words come out. Thoughts emerge. You realize. You are who you are, creative in your helplessness. Between these extreme feelings and wisdom that absolutely no one will understand on one side, and the thoughts and actions coming out of these same feelings, you are simply on another plane.

Humanity. You remember being a human, where you were in touch with your feelings, all of them. You probably have been there before and miss being there. Feelings of depression are one of the hardest things for people, but… it is part of you. It pushes you to be you. Once you have passed through it you will feel fortunate to have learned that side of yourself. While you are in it, you want to stay in your depression, but other friends, family and providers are encouraging you not to. You know they care, because you do. Also, you care. Depression is a time of deep caring.

Good. You are good. Why? Because you can stop, feel, think and be honest with who you are. No bad person gets depressed. But I will leave you to get more answers on your own thoughts, your own story.”

What is Merhi’s take home message?

“Depression is hard and weird, but can remind us of all it is to be human and the emotions that come with that. For the sake of curiosity and life, don’t hurt yourself. Don’t give up. Breathe”

“I believe that the mystery of the brain is yet to be unfolded. With the Valley’s help, I hope we come a step closer to this unfolding, all the while become better people in a better future.”

I agree that is sound advice, because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!)

Resources for those who are feeling depressed or need help:

Suicide Hotline: 1-877-289-7199

Educational Resources: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)