The plethora of websites, blogs, and e-journals developed by people suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions is perhaps evidence for a phenomenon that writers have known for centuries: writing therapy. Recently supported by research studies and mental health specialists alike, writing is increasingly being recognized as a supplemental or alternative therapy for those suffering from depression.
Particularly in combination with traditional depression treatments, such as medication and psychotherapy, writing can work wonders toward relieving certain symptoms of depression. In addition to helping the writer work through feelings and find expression for emotions, Internet-based writing – such as blogging or public e-journaling – can also help the depressed individual find comfort in the company of supportive readers, many of whom have experienced similar difficulties or mental health challenges.
Writers have long understood the cathartic nature of spilling the written word onto crisp white paper. As Samuel Butler said, “Every man’s work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself.” It is this idea that draws patients and therapists alike to the idea of writing as therapy. To write down what is in your head and on your mind is to paint a picture of what is going on inside you. Even creative writing helps the writer respond to what he or she is experiencing, drafting scenes and situations that reflect the writer’s mental environment and put a story to the pain.
For those suffering from mild or reactive depression, writing may even provide dramatic improvements in mood and symptoms over time. With regular writing or guided writing therapy, depressed individuals can gradually identify and work through the issues that trouble them most. Simply acknowledging and writing private feelings down helps relieve anxiety and depressive symptoms in many patients, and writing about life situations, emotions, and thoughts (even those that are unclear or confusing to the writer) can help address the concerns that are causing the depression.
How can you start writing to treat depression?
According to William Wordsworth, just “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” Don’t worry about whether the writing is good or clever or correct. Forget proper punctuation, ignore plots or dialogue or whatever doesn’t appeal to you, and just write. Let it flow.
- Give yourself at least ten minutes of time to set aside just for writing.
- Start with what you did today or what is frustrating you, move on to how work or home life is going, and let the words keep coming until you feel like stopping.
- Feel free to write about specific circumstances that may be causing your depression, or ignore it altogether at first and just get comfortable putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
After the first few sessions, you will find a personal comfort zone for your therapeutic writing.
- Perhaps keeping a diary of daily events will help work through your frustrations, or perhaps keeping an online blog about your emotions or experiences will give you peace.
- Mix up your writing routine if you feel bored or stuck in a rut, and don’t be afraid to try writing poetry, creative stories, or songs.
- Try to write every day or two – even just a few lines – for two months.
The best thing about writing is that it is free and customizable therapy. It can be as personal or public as you like, you can choose the topic and depth of your writing, and you can change your style every day if you so desire.
- You can write to yourself, to family and friends, or to the world.
- You can write anytime, anyplace, and for any reason.
- If you like, you can even try to sell your work down the line as a memoir, song collection, or poetry book!
Anaïs Nin said that writing helps us put into the written word “what we are unable to say” . If you have struggled with talk therapy or if you don’t know how to verbalize what you are experiencing, give writing a try. The words don’t have to be perfect and the solution won’t be immediate, but you may soon begin to realize a weight being lifted from your shoulders as you pick up your pen.
So go ahead – get started today, right this minute if you so choose. Start a blog or pull out a piece of scratch paper, dust off the old journal on your bookshelf. Let writing work its magic for you, and help relieve your symptoms of depression one word at a time.
Author Bio: Katie Brind’Amour is a Certified Health Education Specialist dedicated to helping others reach a personal state of health and wellness. She has a Masters in Biology and is certified in Mental Health First Aid. Katie keeps busy as a freelance health writer and blogger while working on her PhD in Health Services Management and Policy in Columbus, Ohio.