02/01/2012 02:38 EST | Updated 04/02/2012 05:12 EDT

An Ounce of Prevention...


Someone I know is currently living with depression. Anyone else out there? I know there are a lot of us.

This is sort of new to me (this whole "thinking and talking about depression" thing) -- and sort of not. Let me explain.

Twenty-three years ago, I was young, in love, a new bride -- and eight months later, a widow. My new husband died by suicide. It completely caught me off guard. I was definitely still in the "honeymoon" stage and oblivious to any pain he quite clearly must have been experiencing.

I, needless to say, was changed that day. I knew that it was my invitation to learn as much as I could about preventing people from even coming close to making such a decision. I decided that I wanted to do everything possible in my life to build positive, healthy relationships with the important people in my life (including myself!).

It was that experience that set the course for the rest of my life -- and my life's work. I am now a voracious reader, explorer, experimenter and practitioner of everything positive -- infusing positive psychology, emotional intelligence and neuroscience into each and every presentation and workshop I deliver. I believe -- and practice -- everything I "preach" to the individuals, teams and organizations I visit each week. I know this "stuff" works.

So, when I got word that someone I know is experiencing depression, I was dumbfounded. I was, however, hopeful, too!

I went to visit him, I brought my "toolbag" of tips and strategies (called PAI's, or Positive Activity Interventions, in Eric Barker's post in Business Insider). My goal was to give him -- and his family -- hope.

Unfortunately, he was not -- and still has not been -- very responsive to these PAI's. He is also not talking to anyone -- professionally or otherwise. It has perplexed me... However, I am determined to figure this out. I care about him and I don't give up easily.

In Eric's article, he says something alarming:

The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that by 2020 depression will be second only to ischemic heart disease as the leading cause of disability for all ages and both genders.

If that is the case (and even if it's not) we can all do something -- right now -- to practice some prevention for ourselves and the people we care about who are not living with depression. And, we might just be able to help our depressed buddies along the way, too.

Let's inoculate ourselves by practicing a little PAI from time to time.

Below are some examples of PAIs. I know... they seem trivial. You might find yourself saying "Come on, really? Can this actually make a difference?" Well, the answer is yes! Each PAI might increase positive emotion -- and that may help you build up your immunity to depression. That's prevention.

Try them out -- starting today:

  • Be nice to others you meet in your life
  • Help someone else
  • Volunteer for a social service organization
  • Express how grateful you are to people you care about
  • Note "what's good" today
  • Reframe negative events more positively
  • Notice -- and rework -- your explanatory style when faced with a setback
  • Meditate
  • Smile

If you are depressed, I think that in some cases more positive emotion can help you to begin to "heal" from your depression (along with the rest of the great things your are already doing in concert with your doctor). Perhaps it can be part of the "cure."

Helping someone out, for example, can have huge benefits for you! Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor at the University of California-Riverside, says, "The major aspect is the positive emotion. The most significant feature of depression is the absence of positive emotion... (it is) a feeling of emptiness."

Not only can being positive improve your mood, it can also develop into a healthy upward spiral. Lyubomirsky says, "You might be more approachable to others, or be more creative and imaginative. It snowballs, and you are more likely to experience even more positive emotion... It doesn't involve you going to a doctor. It's not a replacement, but its a great alternative to therapy or medication."

So, practice an ounce of prevention every day. Whether you are depressed or not, just do it... and notice what happens. That ounce of prevention might just be that pound of cure you've been looking for.

Are you in crisis? Need help? In Canada, find links and numbers to 24-hour suicide crisis lines in your province here.