Preventing Depression

depression man sitting on floor

Can Depression be prevented?  YES


When I first began studying depression almost 50 years ago, there was very little in the way of good treatment available.  That’s part of what drew me into focusing on depression – it’s the most common mood disorder on the planet and no one really knew how to treat it reliably and effectively. The primary goal, then, was to develop good treatments. Thinking in terms of prevention was sheer fantasy at the time!

Now, all these years later, depression isn’t the mystery it once was and we know a lot about good treatments. This has opened the door to addressing the question as to whether these approaches can be used preventively. The short answer is yes, yes, yes! It is not theoretical. In fact, depression prevention programs have been successfully implemented in a wide variety of contexts including schools (all grades), businesses, and organizations. These depression prevention programs teach the very skills mentioned in the previous section on psychotherapy approaches.

It’s impressive to see the results with every group that has been exposed to these life skills and how well they fare when facing adversities compared to people who have never had such training. What’s especially impressive is when these skills have been taught to younger children who have grown up using them.

The long-term studies of depression make it clear that the younger you are when you have your first depressive episode, the more likely you are to have depression recurring episodes throughout your lifespan. Teaching young people to be better problem solvers, better relationship partners, better thinkers, and better people can save lots of suffering down the line…and that’s what prevention is all about.

We can’t stop bad things from happening in people’s lives, of course, but we can do a lot to empower people to manage life’s challenges with skill and insight in order to avoid sinking into despair and hopelessness.

What Can You Do to Prevent Depression?

Skills to Prevent Depression

The Skills for PREVENTING DEPRESSION are the same ones that are necessary for treating depression.

If you are an adult looking to prevent your own episodes of depression or minimize future episodes  then these are the skills you need to address. For some people, they can do this through self-help by simply being aware of the skills and actively engaging in opportunities to practice using them. For many people however, seeking the help of a trained professional can make all the difference in learning these skills and applying them in your life.

If you are a parent, these are the skills you should be teaching your children through modeling and deliberate teaching opportunities from the earliest age possible. Of course, how and what you say to a pre-schooler versus a teenager is based upon their developmental level and relevance to their life. But the sooner you begin teaching these skills, the more likely you will be able to help children better cope with life’s stressors and avoid depression in their future.

depression man sitting on floor
  • Learn to recognize what is and what is not in your control.
  • Learn to think ahead and prevent problems, stress and issues causing distress from arising whenever possible.
  • Learn to anticipate  consequences (If this… then that)
  • Learn to identify more than a single negative explanation for an event. Generate at least one positive and one neutral explanation in addition to the negative one you’ve probably already considered for the same event.
  • Learn to recognize and then stop when you are engaging in “all or none” thinking. This is sometimes called “black or white” or dichotomous thinking.
  • Learn to recognize when something is uncertain and then to tolerate that ambiguity rather than having to find an answer for something that may be unanswerable.
  • Learn how to proactively make decisions rather than just having things happen and having to react to them
  • Learn problem solving skills that generate effective solutions
  • Build your frustration tolerance to be able to stay with something even when it may be difficult
  • Learn and develop your social skills so that you can have supportive and healthy relationships that can be an insulation against depression
  • Develop critical thinking skills to assess people, situations, and information so that you are not prone to just ‘believing’ something without the evidence to support it. Learn how to ‘reality test’ by asking yourself /others what is the evidence for your beliefs
  • Learn to recognize your stress points, and develop positive coping skills for managing it