“Linda isn’t depressed, and her life seems a lot worse than mine.
So.... why me?”
Sound familiar? This is a kind of thinking that hurts us in the long run. While failing to explain our difficulties, we simultaneously produce feelings of guilt or shame about our emotions by comparing ourselves to others. Yet, we may be so devoted to proving that we are not “crazy” that we often search for concrete justification for emotional problems. This helps displace blame, relieve guilt over not being able to “control” ourselves, and alleviate concerns about being “normal”. Yet, this very struggle may hinder our willingness to enter treatment or accept the services that may actually help us move forward.
In an effort to address the question, “Why ME?” from a more scientific standpoint, let’s take a look at the factors that are widely believed to be at play:
First, we consider “nature”, or genetic/biological predispositions. Let’s look at your family history. Was Mom depressed? Was Uncle Steve ever hospitalized for psychiatric reasons? A detailed family history can help to inform both you and your mental health practitioner as to the possibility of a genetic predisposition toward a particular mental illnesses.
Now, consider the impact of “nurture”, or environmental stressors on your mental health. Rejection from peers (social stressors), trouble with a boss/teacher (educational/occupational stressors), or death of a family member (family stressors) may trigger or intensify symptoms of psychological distress. A more comprehensive list of environmental stressors can be found on Axis 4 of the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Psychologists have long engaged in an epic battle of “nature versus nurture” in an effort to explain which of these factors influence the development of psychiatric problems. I prefer not to seek explanation from one factor versus the other, but rather, the possibility of an interaction between these factors. For example: imagine Bob and Larry each have an extensive family history of depression. Despite similar histories, Larry is clinically depressed, while Bob is not. Why? Perhaps Larry is experiencing significant financial hardship or lost a loved one. While both have a predisposition or vulnerability for developing depression, environmental stressors could contribute to different outcomes.
Alternatively, imagine Mary and Sue have both survived a natural disaster. Despite undergoing the same environmental stressor, Sue takes some time to recover then returns to her normal functioning, while Mary develops an anxiety disorder that persists long after the incident occurred. We learn that Mary’s mother had OCD and her brother suffers from panic attacks, while Sue has no family history of psychiatric issues. Here, we may be able to use family history to help inform the occurrence of divergent outcomes.
Keep in mind that just because Uncle Steve might have been schizophrenic doesn’t mean that you are or will be schizophrenic. To clarify, genetics aren’t a “make or break” factor, nor are life stressors. In fact, positive elements in the environment, called Protective Factors, can help offset the development of mental illness. Protective Factors may include a strong social support system, use of positive coping skills, and a positive self image.
If you are still wondering “why me?” feel free to contact me for more information