Dealing with Depression

Question asked on Quora today:  Is depression a sign of mental weakness?

Gus’s reply: The idea of one person being mentally weaker than another is an outdated expression, not because the words are invalid – everyone has mental strengths and mental weaknesses – but because the expression was once used to peg someone as being inferior to others.

As a performance coach, every day I work with the mental strengths and weaknesses of people. In that context, we think of a mental weakness as something that impairs a person ability to perform in life as he or she would like to, some mental trait that is making it difficult for them to get the outcomes from their actions they are hoping for. So the comparison here is not between people but between the performing reality of a person and the performance he or she desires – in this context people seldom find the use of the word “weakness” as offensive.

Manners and political correctness aside, there is such a thing as strong performers and weak performers in every field of human endeavour. In most cases, this is easy to measure and thus establish objectively. But to then extend this to calling a person mentally weak is generally considered offensive and is also factually incorrect.

Any person’s performing, measurable weakness or strength is always relative to the activity being engaged in. I admit that I am weak at thinking with numbers (accounting, algebra, etc), so I guess that means it is a “mental weakness” of mine – (though putting it in those terms would make most people wince these days). But I am mentally strong at other activities – like putting myself in other people’s shoes (empathy) – which makes me a good coach.

My older sister, Margaret, who sadly passed on some years ago, was born with a genetic condition called Fragile X Syndrome which resulted in her IQ being well below average. Throughout school, she was always put in the “slow learner” special needs class. Whereas my older brother and my younger sister were both assessed as having genius level IQs and were consistent straight-A students.

But it was Margaret who turned out to be the best money manager in my family. Somehow, she just had a knack with numbers which made her the best practical economist of us all. My so-called genius siblings often found themselves borrowing money off Margaret just to get along in life.

So who was the one with the real “mental weakness”??? I don’t care how “weak” a person may appear to you on the surface, if you go looking for them you will find plenty of strengths they could be encouraged to focus on more thoroughly.

In my job I have found that it’s much more beneficial to help people get a clearer idea of their strengths, rather than their weaknesses. It is easy to learn how to improve your performance at things you are already good at, whereas it is difficult to learn how to fix your weaknesses. So people who learn to rely on their strengths to help them along in life are always much more successful than people who fixate on fixing or “getting rid of” their weaknesses.


So what does all this have to do with depression? The more you can focus on what you’re good at, and keep on improving in those areas, the less depressed any person will feel. So the final answer to your question is a definitive No!

Depression is not a sign of mental weakness, it is a sign of fixating on your weaknesses. And believe me, we all have them to fixate on, just as we all have strengths we could be relying on more than we are.

If you are feeling depressed, I suggest you go and do my Talent Tuneup (for free!), which will give you a general idea of activities you could focus on to make you feel less depressed.

(If you can’t trust me enough to give us your phone number, which the Tuneup requires, then you can read all about the concepts embodied in the Tuneup and try to do it by yourself here.)

And if you want to know about your strengths in more detail than that, then I suggest you spend twenty bucks on Gallup’s online Strengthfinder.

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Posted August 9, 2019 at 2:06 pm by Gus Griffin · Permalink
In: Misc