Depression Prevents Self-Improvement

May 25, 2020 Natasha Tracy

I believe depression prevents self-improvement. Maybe not in its entirety, but certainly overall. I feel like depression is a wall and I'm chained to it, so forward progress is all but impossible. So what do you do if you think depression is preventing your self-improvement?

Self-Improvement and Depression

I believe that life is a study on self-improvement. I think each day we can wake up as a better version of ourselves than the day before. Sometimes that looks like a trying to make a major change like working on a more effective and positive communication style with the help of a therapist and sometimes this just looks like a making a tiny change to find one positive thought when you wake up in the morning. There are a million ways to improve yourself and that's why it takes a lifetime.

And when you're depressed, it can feel like there are so many things wrong with you that self-improvement is vital. It's when you're depressed that all your foibles look huge. It's when you're depressed that everything feels wrong. So it's no surprise that people who are depressed may be focused on self-improvement a lot. They may think that if they just fix "that thing" about themselves, they will feel better and the depression will go away.

Self-Improvement Is Prevented by Depression

There are two problems with this though:

  1. You can't "fix" your way out of depression.
  2. Depression prevents self-improvement in many ways.

As I said, depression is a brick wall, and you are chained to it so, forward motion into self-improvement just seems impossible.

Depression makes you feel false things about yourself. Depression often looks a lot like low self-esteem, in fact. This is likely because depression has worthlessness and excessive guilt as symptoms. When you're feeling worthless, how do you work on self-improvement? And what's more, if your brain is making your feel worthless, can any attempt at self-improvement actually be felt?

Depression-Prevented Self-Improvement -- An Example

So let's consider this situation:

  • You feel bad about yourself and decide that battling the weight gain from your medication would be a way to feel better about yourself. (This is a reasonable goal as exercise can help depression, too.)
  • You make a goal to walk five miles a week. 

At this point, one of two things happen, either one, you meet your goal, or two, you don't.

Depression is rooting for you to fail, of course. It's trying to make you fail by creating fatigue (a depression symptom) and inducing insomnia, reducing the likelihood you'll have the energy to walk at all. When you fail, of course, you feel worse about yourself, not better, and this gives the depression strength and can make it worse.

But let's assume that you beat what depression is throwing out at you and do walk your five miles in a week. Unfortunately for you, because you feel worthless and anhedonic (an inability to feel pleasure, another depression symptom) you don't feel good about achieving your goal. You, literally, are incapable of feeling good about it. You might then even feel worse because you realize you can't feel good about achieving a goal.

In both cases, depression ends up winning and making it far less likely you'll even try to attain that goal again. Your overall goal of self-improvement is prevented by depression.

Fighting Depression Preventing Self-Improvement

I realize that in the above example, things seem hopeless; and, indeed, for the depressed person that is how it feels. 

But I guess there are two things to think about:

  1. Your depression might prevent you from feeling good about it, but no one can take away the achievement. Sometimes knowledge of this is enough to keep going.
  2. There is no saying that you might not feel better about your self-improvement later when the depression abates. Again, this knowledge can be enough for you to try again.

So, I guess it's truer to say that depression can prevent feelings of self-improvement. It may seem like you're not improving, but depression can't take away your actions -- which may, in fact, be amazing and self-improving -- even if you don't feel it.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2020, May 25). Depression Prevents Self-Improvement, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

May, 29 2020 at 12:54 pm

This is how I feel for the past 10 years. I could not formulate a goal. That's even more difficult to improve me. I don't know how to begin. I write things I like, what I do, what I can improve but there's so many, I get so overwhelmed. I get tired so I give up. I'm too tired to even start the race. I don't have any will-power to change myself. I don't want to do the race at all.

May, 28 2020 at 4:16 am

I have learned from experience that if I do nothing, my depression worsens as does my attitude. Therefore I try my best each day to push myself toward doing something, no matter how small, to improve my lot and I also try to do it with a good attitude no matter how I truly feel inside.
Ideally a person would go to a doctor and/or counsellor for assistance. If you can’t afford counselling then learn to be your own counsellor through books and the internet. If you don’t have affordable healthcare or can’t afford the proper medication, do your best to make positive lifestyle choices.
Yes, I understand depression makes doing any of these things a trillion times harder and everyone’s situation is different. Believe me, I get it.
Much of the time I feel like I’m running a race that I didn’t sign up for, that I’m not fit to run, I haven’t trained for it, I’m not dressed for it, my shoes are in dire need of repair, other people keep lapping me, the weather conditions are shitty, I’m hot/cold tired, hungry and thirsty!!!
Ahead of me I see a bench and maybe beside it a water fountain flowing with fresh, cold, clean water. I tell myself if I can just make it to that I’ll be ok.
But then life circumstances change and it can also seem like the miles I need to travel to my destination are increasing. I get discouraged and wonder if what I’m hoping for is just a mirage!

Leave a reply