Brief Interventions for Depression (Without Medication)


Often the inhuman reality of prison-life can exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness.

The following are brief intervention concepts I have found effective over the years, for the purpose of addressing feelings of depression and suicidal despair in the prisoners that I work with.

These concepts are delivered primarily through listening and occasionally asking open ended questions. This approach is not: delivering unwanted advice, lecturing, offering negative criticism.

Below are 6 basic approaches I find most effective.

Brief Interventions for Depression…

1. Don’t judge. If someone discusses with you their struggles with mental illness, first of all, do no judging. That is, avoid at all costs the tendency to think yourself better than others because they are wounded. It takes a tremendous amount of vulnerability to talk about one’s mental health issues with others. Try to keep in mind your own weaknesses and failures… I also think the platinum rule applies here, ”Treat others how they want to be treated.”

If you, personally, are struggling with depression – stop Judging Yourself.. One of my favorite Bible quotes is from Paul’s Epistles, where he says, “ I don’t even judge myself…”  This is not an excuse to behave without morals. It is a plea to stop letting your negative thoughts consume you. Let critical thoughts evaporate, avoid personalizing your failures, your faults or your problems.

Remember that feeling terrible once and awhile is a normal part of life. Instead of personalizing your failures, i.e. because I made a mistake, I must be “a loser” “I’ll never be successful” etc., choose those areas in which you would like to do better, and work on them.

2. Listen. If someone has come to you with their issues, listen to them. Hear them out without offering advice. Hearing someone out without judging them – or saying anything at all, except maybe a few words of consolation – is just about as therapeutic an experience as you can give someone.

If you are struggling with depression, listen to yourself. What are the things you tell yourself that make you feel terrible?  Are they true? Are they fair? Often we are harder on ourselves than we might be on someone else we care about… How could you be more reasonable when it comes to how you view yourself?

3. Focus on the Positive. Think of 25 things that are good in your life; focusing on the good things we’ve got going-on in our lives can sometimes alleviate feelings of depression instantly. I know of no other technique that works as quickly or effectively. What is going well in your life? What things do you do well, or do people say they like about you? Think about every person who loves you, and every person that might appreciate your love in return.

4. Avoid at all costs the tendency to dwell on your faults problems and failures. Have you ever had a sore in your mouth, and you just can’t help sticking your tongue in it, even though it hurts every time you do it? Sometimes we do that with depressive thoughts. This is referred to as ruminating. Resist ruminating on your problems for even a second. Dwell instead on the things mentioned above and dwell on the ways in which you will do things better.

5. Develop Self Efficacy. Self Efficacy refers to your feelings about how effective you are in your environment. Your ability to directly better your circumstances correlates to powerful feelings of well being and is an important part of maintaining good mental health.

The easiest way of developing self efficacy is to accomplish something. Anything. Start small, or start big. Focus on small successes immediately, and celebrate small steps toward big goals.

6. How many people love you? How many people could use more of your love?When you feel like you have nothing, or that you have lost everything, remember no one can ever take from you your ability to love others. As long as you live, whatever your circumstances, you posses the most powerful force in the universe within you – the ability to love others. There are those in your life that need you, look up to you, and who would benefit immensely from your love.

Do you have any tips on how you have dealt with depression? I’d love to hear your feedback and comments!

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