• Joshuah Ellis, MS, LPC

Why Positive Thinking isn’t Helping Your Depression

Picture this: a group of kids is playing on a playground. One of the boys goes up for a layup, loses his footing, and ends up falling onto the concrete. His friends, also boys, are not likely to go over to him and ask him if he’s alright for such a minor spill. Instead, they are likely to say, “Come on, man. Shake it off. You’re OK.” This is a very male-typical response and for the most part, it is effective in situations like this.


Now, fast forward 15 years. Instead of playing basketball, the same people are now juggling jobs, families, finances, and other life stuff. Instead of taking a minor spill on the court, the injury is internal…mental. It’s depression. Still wanting to help, his friends tell him, “You got this, man. Things will get better. Look on the bright side. It could be worse.” So, he tries to look on the bright side. He thinks of all he has in his life; all that he has to be thankful for. Only, it doesn’t work. The depression continues, and now shame sets in. It’s a one-way trip into the fog and he is all alone.

Chances are, this story resonates with you in some way. Maybe you are struggling with depression, but as a man, you have decided that if you just keep a positive mindset, you’ll push through. Maybe you will. People have done it before, but if you don’t, there may be a reason for that.


Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity is the idea that assumes a person has control over their mental state based on their ability to have a positive mindset. The issue here is not positivity. I am pro-positivity, and so are you if you think about it. The problem with toxic positivity lies in assuming that all one needs is a positive mindset to overcome whatever mental hurdles are in your path. When it doesn’t work. The person suffering is not lead to believe that the struggle is stronger than previously thought. Instead, they believe that they are not doing enough to overcome it. They have failed. They are not strong enough.


Depression in Men

I have heard it said that depression is a “female issue.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Depression in men exists only slightly less frequently in men than in women. Men just present their symptoms all the time. Our idea of depression depicts a tearful person in bed unable to get up and face the day. Sometimes this is true. Other times depression looks like a dad who goes to work every day, does well, then comes home to his family, plays with the kids, bathes the dog, and coaches baseball. Outward behavior doesn’t always reveal the pain inside. For this guy, telling someone he is depressed is oftentimes going to be met with disbelief and, you guessed it, toxic positivity.


Why Toxic Positivity Doesn’t Work.

  1. It assumes that someone feels bad because they have chosen to feel this way and gives no account to biology, interpersonal relationships, life experiences, or any other context.

  2. It often makes the recipient feel like a failure or inadequate for being unable to “snap out” of their struggles.

  3. It is completely void of compassion or empathy even if it is delivered with the best of intentions.

  4. It is unreasonable. Sometimes there isn’t a bright side. If you lose a loved one, there isn’t a silver lining that is going to reduce the pain of that loss.

  5. It discourages help-seeking behavior and proper coping skills. Imagine working up the courage to talk to someone about your depression only to have it invalidated and dismissed. Chances are you would be unlikely to reach out again.

Accuracy is a Better Alternative

I tell my clients all the time, “You don’t have to be positive. Just be accurate.” It is ok to feel bad. It is ok to be sad. Consider one of my favorite therapy questions: “Have you always felt the way you do right now?” The answer to this is always, “no.” What does this tell us then? If you haven’t always been depressed, is it accurate to assume you will feel this way forever? Of course not. So while depression is serious and can be extreme, it does not have to be your forever. Sometimes this is all the foothold you need to start working your way out of the fog.


This is why counseling for depression is so effective, especially for guys. There is no shame in being depressed. There is no shame in asking for help. Working with a counselor can help you get the results you are looking for quicker in many cases. At Mind Works Counseling Services in Lubbock, TX we specialize in evidence-based counseling practices for men with depression and many other mental distress issues. You don’t have to do this on your own, and you don’t have to just look on the bright side and hope it goes away. We are here to help.


Learn more about the Depression Therapy for men that we offer.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment or to let us answer any questions you may have.

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