A 2021 study found that global rates of depression are now at an all-time high, with increasing post-Covid anxiety levels impacting millions of people’s lives. Data from the 2019 National Health Interview Survey found that almost 20% of Americans were actively seeking help for these problems.
In a 2022 World Psychiatric Commission report, lead researcher professor Helen Herrman puts it plainly: “Depression is a leading cause of avoidable suffering in the world.” It’s not exactly news that people are depressed, right? We are a nation of people battling burnout, anxiety and lack of purpose. The unanswered question is why.
Granted, there may be as many causes for depression as there are human beings: trauma, financial worries, unfulfilling relationships, abuse, social isolation, poor health – the list goes on. But if you feel you’ve already addressed these factors, and still find yourself struggling, I’d like to suggest one cause you might not have considered.
What happens when we live ‘out of integrity’
As a career and life coach, I’ve seen what’s possible when we begin with the question: what is my depression trying to tell me? I now believe that one of the most underrated causes of depression is a lack of integrity; being out of alignment with who you are, and what you know to be true.
When we are not aligned with who we really are as people, we waste time trying to fit in with other people’s ideas of what we should be. In trying to avoid rejection, we abandon our true selves and become depressed.
When we are not aligned with what we know deep down to be true, we waste time hiding, keeping secrets, and detaching from our authenticity… and again, we become depressed.
I had to learn this the hard way! For years I knew I was miserable, but all my solutions were just more of the same. Nothing worked because my deeper problem was a disconnection from my truth. Beneath that was plain old fear.
Maybe you can relate. Have you ever abandoned your truth? Have you ever turned away from it and pretended it wasn’t there?
“Shame,” said Carl Jung, “is a soul-eating emotion.” Sounds dramatic, but I have since learnt that your soul can also be eaten away in tiny nibbles. Every time you hide, fail to speak up, or quietly wish you were someone different, that’s a bite. Every time you look at your magnificent, unique and precious life, and pronounce it “not good enough” – another bite.
Truth is what allows you to connect. to yourself and others
In my life, one big untruth spawned all the others: the idea that I was fundamentally unworthy, undeserving, and just plain bad. Why would I believe that? I grew up without any formal education. I’ve experienced four marriages, three divorces, three emigrations, countless jobs, grinding poverty, depression, and a good sprinkle of physical and sexual abuse. As you say in America, I came from the wrong side of the tracks. That’s why I always carried the belief that if anyone knew the real me, I’d no longer be good enough to be part of their lives. So, I’d lie.
Over time, the more I denied who I was, though, the less of me there seemed to be. Eventually, even I forgot who I was anymore. And if I wasn’t actually present, how could I have connected meaningfully with others?
Too many people think “The flawed parts of me are not worthy of connection with others”; in truth, vulnerability is a necessary condition for connecting!
Too many people make an unconscious bargain: “I’ll pretend to be someone else, and in exchange, I get to belong.” But what does it matter if the version of ourselves we convince others to accept is not actually us?
Too many people think, “Just as soon as XYZ happens, then I’ll be someone worthy of love and happiness, and then I can be authentic. Just let me sweep a few things under the rug first.” In reality, it is this shame itself that keeps you from connecting authentically, not your imperfection.
If you want to build a meaningful life for yourself, you have to do it as the person you genuinely, actually are. Right now.
Not perfect, not “new and improved” but real
What does life look like when we are present as ourselves – all of ourselves?
Owning our truth is a radical shift. It means we are whole, and we act from that wholeness. We live lives that are connected to our deepest truths.
When we heal, we call back to awareness of the old parts of ourselves we lost or disowned years ago. We refuse to keep devaluing our truth and learn to trust our own judgment again. We respect our unique gifts, perceptions, and desires, instead of submitting to other people’s truths.
This is why honesty can heal: when we speak the truth, we are whole again. We don’t have to be perfect to be well; we just need to be whole.
Get reacquainted with your truth
Some of us have been acting out a role for so long that we don’t even know who they are anymore. It can be hard to untangle yourself from this societal conditioning and ask what kind of life you want. Some of us wait decades before asking that question!
So, what is your true self? I don’t honestly know. I do know, however, that you have a purpose here on this earth – and it will never be my job or anyone else’s to tell you what that is.
If you suffer from depression, I encourage you to get curious as I did. Ask yourself:
- Where am I not living in integrity with myself?
- What would it look and feel like for me to own my truth?
- Who am I, and what do I want my life to be?
Living in your truth doesn’t have to be an overnight transformation. Small changes can make the biggest difference. For example, see what it feels like to admit to others when you’re actually afraid or unhappy. Without apologising or downplaying your needs, ask for help when you genuinely require it and see what happens. Find courage and speak out against something you know is wrong. Or maybe for you, living with more integrity simply means trying something new even when you don’t feel 100% ready.
Are there influences beyond our control impacting our mental health? Absolutely. I wouldn’t dream of diminishing them. But I also know from experience that if we hand over too much of our power to a mental health diagnosis, we forfeit the chance to tap into something more true for us.
Once I heard someone say that “anxiety is fear without breath.”
Well, I’m beginning to believe that depression is “pain without truth.” Our goal should never be to numb this pain or run away from it – but to tell the truth about it, and shine a light on it with courage and compassion.
We don’t have to be perfect, or fearless, or have it all figured out. We just have to show up as ourselves, with sincerity and the willingness to speak from the heart. It’s this, and not perfection, that gives meaning and direction to our lives. And I believe that this holds the secret to real resilience against depression.
Paula Melo Doroff is a certified professional coach by the International Coaching Federation and best-selling author of “One Decision Away: Key Principles to Create What You Want in Life and Work“.