Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Depression As Maturation

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 2, 2014


“To our surprise, a person may come out of a depression, stronger, wiser and more stable than before he or she went into it.” D. W. Winnicott

Depression and guilt are close relatives, meaning that the experience of depression is the experience of feeling bad or guilty about one’s past, present or imagined future behavior. Guilt is the engine for maturation in that evaluating one’s behavior requires a certain amount of maturity, and so with this observing ego, harsh as it may be initially, comes the ability to eventually forgive and love yourself.


Amir, forty-one, comes to mind. He is an attorney, hard-working, financially successful, but, by his account a “terrible husband and father.” He presents as despondent, withdrawn and, at times, very angry with himself. With exploration, Amir recognizes his selfish behavior at home, resulting in his wife feeling lonely and seeking deeper satisfaction with her girlfriends than with him. At first, he pleads for relief from his self-diagnosed “depression,” but as time marches on, he develops the patience to reflect that as he begins to forgive himself, he can then ask forgiveness from his wife of fifteen years, and they can move forward with a deeper relationship. Amir’s guilt was the portal to understanding how he sees himself, an endlessly fascinating exploration of self-definition, which, with maturity, comes the reflection on the good, the bad and the ugly. Does this mean that Amir should not go on medication in order to explore the meaning of his symptoms? No. To the contrary, medication can help Amir come to a place that enables him to develop the satellite perspective of his perceived failings. antidepressants is a misnomer. Our medications do not fight depression. They can lift the despair, allowing the patient to “fight” the depression, and thereby grow up.



4 Responses to “Depression As Maturation”

  1. Jon said

    Your comments about depression as maturation make some sense. You also use guilt as a motivator for that maturation, again, with reasonable argumentation. This brings to my mind three tangents, or (as you have said of other tangents in these discussions) free associations.

    First, you have argued before that depression can be understood as ungratified desires. I can see how that might come into play for Amir. Do you have further comments?

    Next, any discussion of maturation brings to my mind the quote of science fiction grand master “It’s amazing how much ‘mature wisdom’ resembles being too tired.”

    Finally, what is the graphic of MRI Scans of Health Children and Teens Over Time showing, and how is it relevant to the post?

    • Thanks, Jon.
      Amir wanted to see himself as a good father and husband, but upon reflection he can see how he has been painfully selfish. In this way, he did not meet his own expectations of himself and hence a depressive mood has set in.
      As for “mature wisdom resembles being too tired,” yes, indeed, fatigue strips one of one’s denial, leading to a more authentic view of himself and the world.
      As for the diagram related to my post, I thought it was cool that the MRI can demonstrate how the brain matures over time, and I wanted to contrast that with behavior, which may or may not mature over time. Thanks.

  2. Shelly said

    Why do you say that “the experience of depression is the experience of feeling bad or guilty about one’s past, present or imagined future behavior?” Why can’t depression just be low mood about life in general, and not about a particular experience or behavior? Why do you associate overcoming depression with “growing up?” That surely puts a stigma on it!

    • The issue of mood, as to whether it is low or high, has deep underpinnings which usually translate to unmet, or partially met expectations of oneself. Low moods, usually, have triggers which signal danger or disappointment, be it past present or imagined future. Overcoming depression can be a launching pad for maturity, but I do not see how that adds stigma. In contrast, to see depression as a stop on the way towards personal growth, de-stigmatizes the experience and takes it away from the arena of a mental illness. Thanks.

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