One way to gain insight into the nature of something is to examine its opposite. I was struck recently by reading the words of different people who claimed that the opposite of fear, for example, is not courage, but love. Instead of forever debating an exact definition of depression, one way forward might be to imagine its opposite and then work towards achieving that opposite state in depressed people.
So what is the opposite of depression? I present you with three candidates.
Depression is a form of mental ill health. The opposite of ill health is, well, health. This is true but it doesn ‘t take us very far. There are many varieties of mental illness of which depression is one. Mental health is a general term; depression is a specific. Also, someone can lack depression or other forms of mental illness and yet we could not classify them as mentally healthy. Health is a positive appraisal. It shouldn ‘t merely mean that an illness is lacking.
Depression is a state of low mood, whatever else is may be. Therefore, the opposite of depression is a state of high mood. The clinical name for this elevates state is mania, which is mostly associated with bipolar disorder. There is a type of mania called hypomania that is a functioning disorder in which people feel highly energised, confident and assertive. However, as it is a disorder, it may lead to risk-taking behaviours and progress into full-blown bipolar. It is not a healthy alternative to depression.
I wish to suggest a third alternative that is wholly positive and within our power. It struck me after rethinking a well-known quotation from Brian Sutton-Smith. The opposite of play is not work, its depression. The application of this quote is usually directed towards the world of work: play and work are not dichotomies, and there should be play element in the workplace. But could the quote ‘s focus not equally be the sphere of depression?
I suggest that the true opposite of depression is play. I’ll unpack this radical idea a bit more in my next blog.