For those who are currently struggling with the illness or have dealt with it in the past, there may be a silver lining.
There's no way around it: Dealing with depression sucks. It can make it hard to enjoy things you normally love, cause you to distance yourself from friends and loved ones, and mess with your memory. It's highly unlikely that anyone with depression would say that it's a positive thing. But there may be one silver lining. (BTW, did you know that there are four different types of depression?)
People who are depressed are better at letting go of and disengaging from unrealistic dreams and goals than people without depression, according to a new study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. Before you say, "That doesn't sound like such a good thing," think about it this way: How do you feel when you don't accomplish a goal? Pretty bad, most likely. And if your goals are things that you clearly can't accomplish—most people will never be able to run a four-minute mile, for example, no matter how hard they try—then you're just setting yourself up for disappointment. The researchers acknowledge that it's good to have lofty goals, but only if they are within reach. So instead of going for a four-minute mile, why not make your goal six or seven minutes? Both are still seriously fast, but not impossible. (P.S. Here's how choosing a big lofty goal can work in your favor.)
To come to this conclusion, the researchers had people with and without depression solve a series of anagrams (words with the letters mixed up). People had to solve as many as they could in a short time period, but there was a catch. Some of the anagrams didn't actually form real words. What the researchers discovered is that the people with depression ended up moving on from the impossible anagrams faster than those without it. In other words, they knew when to give up and ultimately benefited from it by not wasting their time. The authors point out that these results highlight an important strength that those with depression learn: to adapt. Since not meeting goals is something that actually can cause depression, they suggest that this new information could be used in therapy to examine the emotions around motivation, which is often affected by depression. (Struggling with depression? Science says the combination of exercise and meditation can help.)
"If we stop seeing depression simply as a psychological burden, which just needs to be removed through therapy, we might also be able to use the patient's crisis as an opportunity for personal development," Katharina Koppe, one of the authors of the study, said in a press release. Though more research is needed on this subject, it's inspiring to know that people could get something positive out of having depression.