Writing in depression

Someone who just commented on a post has asked me to give my thoughts on how to approach writing alone, rather than in a group, while depressed. This post is my response to that comment.

Before I give my thoughts I feel I should point out two things: (1) my experience of working with people during depression has been in the relatively safe environment of a mental health unit; and (2) I am not a qualified health professional.

When writing in depression, I believe it is important not to risk reinforcing negative thoughts and feelings, and that one way to avoid that is to write in a structured way.

For example, put a time limit on each piece of writing, either 5 or 10 minutes only, and be sure to stop writing when the time is up.

I would recommend mindful writing – notice something in the world around you and write about it for 5 minutes. Keep the writing descriptive and don’t allow any thoughts, feelings or judgments to creep in. So you might write “the curtains have an abstract pattern of yellow, white and grey and the sun is shining through the gap above the curtains making a strip of the ceiling brighter”, but NOT that you “wish you could get some new curtains as these ones are looking old”. When doing mindful writing you write only in the here-and-now, never the past or future. Mindful writing can be helpful because it is grounded in the real world and in the present moment.

Depending on the severity of the depression, writing about positive past experiences can be beneficial (but only do this if you are able to keep the writing focussed on the positive). Look up research carried out by Laura King and colleagues if you’d like to know more about this.

I feel it might be best to avoid freewriting on your own during depression because freewriting can bring out thoughts and memories we don’t expect.

When writing about your feelings when you are on your own, be sure to stick to the 5 or 10 minute time limit and I would recommend that (at least at first) you write only about how you feel right now and not about the past or future.

Writing about yourself in the third person (using she rather than I) can introduce a bit of distance into your writing which can help you stay calm when writing about difficult topics.

If you feel you need or want to write about the past, and that painful memories may come out, I think it would be better to be with someone who can support you if need be while you are actually writing and afterwards.

Writing poetry and stories can be enjoyable and can give you a “flow” experience (look up Csikszentmihalyi in Wikipedia if you want to know about flow). Someone I worked with found that creating a fictional character and starting to write a story about them gave them their first new interest in years – and something to research. If you enjoy writing you might try writing fiction/poetry for pleasure – I love it.

The latest issue of the British Journal of Occupational Therapy has an article about writing in depression. I haven’t got a copy yet but I hope to read it soon and will perhaps blog about it at some point.

Best wishes, Carol.


About Carol Ross

Interested in therapeutic writing.
This entry was posted in Depression, Wellbeing, Writing, Writing Ideas and Prompts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Writing in depression

  1. Simeon says:

    Hi, this is a great article. I find writing mindfully every morning really helps me clear out my head for the rest of the day. It helps me keep the ‘black dog’ at bay and stops me looping around on destructive mind loops that don’t help. I found it so useful that I wrote my own website (I’m a pro web-dev) to capture my thoughts in private that is now public for all to use as a private way to capture your thoughts, wherever & whenever you want.
    I don’t want to post a link to my site to avoid appearing sales-y

    • Carol Ross says:

      Hi Simeon

      Thank you! I know what you mean about writing mindfully in the morning – it’s such a good habit to get into. I’ve had a look at your Write Daily website and I think it would be a good idea for people who want to write a journal but who are afraid someone they live with will read it. I’ll bear it in mind.

      Thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving a comment šŸ™‚

      Best wishes, Carol.

  2. You make some really interesting points here Carol. Avoiding free writing when you’re depressed makes sense especially if it’s severe.

  3. Andrea says:

    Thanks Carol, that is a very useful and interesting post with some good pointers. I would like to try writing but was rather worried about the possibility of unleashing my demons! I really like the idea of mindful writing and I think that is where I will start. I imagine that it could be very good for combatting my often acute anxiety. Thanks again and I look forward to future posts!

  4. Interesting. I’d never thought to not write about certain things if I’ve been down. I think most people do the opposite.
    One thing I do know is that syntax used to get muddled and my creativity tended to either plummet or soar.

    • Carol Ross says:

      I believe it depends how deep the depression is. If someone is mildy depressed I think they could write about whatever they feel they need to write. But with someone who is severely depressed I believe too much negative writing could be harmful.

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