Poetry Therapy and Coping with Depression

17th October 2023

Writing Away the Demons: Coping With Depression
-------------by Sherry Reiter, PhD, Registered Poetry Therapist

In his poem, “Happiness Epidemic,” David Hernandez envisions a happiness epidemic, the transformation of people who were

once blue,
who slouched from carrying
a bag of misery over one shoulder
are now clinically cheerful.

The poem states that symptoms include "kind gestures, a bouncy stride, a smile…" Ah, wouldn’t it be grand?

Yet instead, depression and stress are epidemic. We are blue, irritable, and wonder where the nuggets of gold are in the muddy onslaught of daily life. We suffer from one or more of the symptoms of depression: sadness, insomnia, lack of concentration, inability to enjoy ourselves, and hopelessness. We seek ways to engage in meaningful activities. We are doing more and enjoying it less.

The wisdom of the poets help remind us that the country of happiness awaits us. Stephen Dunn, in his poem “Happiness,” suggests that despite our fear that the roads that lead to the castle may not exist, he exclaims,

But there it is as promised,
with its perfect bridge above the crocodiles,
and its doors forever open.

Clinical Depression - Writing, journaling therapy

Let’s talk about clinical depression, a country I have periodically visited, although I had hoped my visa expired. There are a thousand and one reasons people can get depressed – losses, stress, rejection, abandonment, heartbreak, disillusionment, etc.

Our fast-paced daily lives do not encourage self-expression, creativity, and externalization of our emotions. All of these are absolutely necessary for psychological health. And all of these are addressed through writing or journaling therapy.

Poetry therapy can be effective for stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and many other mental health difficulties and disorders. - AYCNP

Katherine Adams calls writing 'the 79 cent therapist'.

Katherine Adams calls writing “the 79 cent therapist” because all you need is a paper and a pen. While a therapist may be invaluable in your journey, your journal is accessible 24 hours a day. Writing has multiple purposes: to organize your thoughts, regulate emotions through venting, and promote reflection and self-discovery. If you become “stuck” in your writing, find your way to a poetry therapist who can guide you with specific writing exercises and suggestions.

Depression is a biological disease that shows itself psychologically. It causes a distortion of cognitive processes –there is no point for anything, there is only misery, there is nothing good in the world. We are creatures that are built of dreams and neurotransmitters. At the risk of oversimplifying, when the levels of the transmitters are too low or too high, mood plummets. It needs to be corrected.

Attempts to self-medicate, whether through alcohol or other means, are fool-hardy. First of all, if you feel depressed for more than a two week period, be sure to get a full physical exam to rule out possible medical conditions. Secondly, seek professional assistance -- a talk therapist, also, consider cognitive therapy. Third, exercise to counter-act the contracting aspect of depression. Although you may want nothing more than to hide under the covers, exercise (walking, swimming, dancing) activates your serotonin levels and endorphins, the natural painkillers.

Be kind and gentle and patient with yourself. Recovery takes time.

Take advice from the great writer, Barbara Kingsolver, who shares how she recovered from depression: In my own worst seasons I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.

Be kind and gentle and patient with yourself. Recovery takes time. Surround yourself with the beauty of people, nature, and the arts—all are healing for the soul. Above all, do not lose hope. Depression is a serious illness, but treatment is highly successful. DON’T GIVE UP. And don’t forget the easiest method of all–write, write, and write.

Recommended Reading

1. Writing Away the Demons: Stories of Creative Coping through Transformative Writing by Sherry Reiter (North Star Press, 2009).

2. Writing Through the Darkness: Easing Your Depression with Paper and Pen, by Elizabeth Maynard Schaefer (Celestial Arts, 2008) www.writeoutofdepression.blogspot.com

3. Journal Prompts & Creative Writing Ideas for Dealing with Depression, by Mischel Day (Kindle, 2011)

(Recommendations are from author - off-site links are from site and Amazon sponsored).

Dr. Sherry Reiter is a registered poetry therapist, educator, and clinical social worker. As Director of The Creative Writing Center, writing, story and poetry is a creative vehicle for personal growth and healing. She is past President of The National Association for Poetry Therapy and The National Federation for Bibliotherapy.