Spotting Damaged Problem-Solving Skills

How does clinical depression impair a person’s problem-solving skills?

In our previous two-part series on the connection between stress and the onset of depression, we came upon the concept of “stress generation” or the seemingly active process that creates more stressful situations in a person’s life.

The last blog post also delved into the intricacies of mismatched relationships where the depressed individual attempts to gain comfort and validating by gravitating toward partners that are less than ideal.

In today’s blog post, we’re going to explore how this mood disorder affects a person’s problem solving skills.

The ability to take apart problems and solve them through a logical and sound thinking process is a key skill required for a normal and meaningful life. However, depressed individuals often suffer from a myriad of thinking problems including trouble holding on to sound problem-solving strategies.

Here are some key signs that a person has impaired problem-solving skills:

  1. Misinterpretation – Trivial comments are misinterpreted as personal attacks and no effort is given to analyze or substantiate one’s own beliefs. Offhand remarks are considered “proof enough” of being criticized or “picked on” and this often leads to petty conflict with family members, friends, colleagues, etc.

Since the depressed individual is unable to see that the source of the conflict is his/her own mindset, the problem persists and he/she is ostracized and alienated.

Social isolation becomes more pronounced in time as further misinterpretations cause more and more people to avoid the depressed individual. Eventually, the last few members of the immediate support system are also rejected on the grounds that they are “on the attack” as well, when in reality, they were probably just concerned with the depressed person’s welfare.

  1. Extreme Avoidance – This is often observed in situations where the depressed person vehemently avoids a member of his/her immediate support network because of a past misunderstanding.

Interpersonal conflicts are blown way out of proportion and while the other person may still be willing to help the depressed person, he/she is completely rejected. The rationale would be the same: he/she (the person being rejected) has done something undesirable and as ‘punishment,’ he/she will now be stricken off the list of people that the depressed person will talk to.

  1. Rejection of Help – In certain situations, when the depressed individual feels that he/she could no longer trust anyone, he/he may begin rejecting people who want to be part of the immediate support system. Unfortunately this may include the general physician and psychiatrist who are only trying to make the situation better for their patient and the patient’s family.

What particular elements affect a person’s problem solving abilities?

The onset of clinical depression generally has an impact on a person’s problem solving abilities.

However, this doesn’t mean that every depressed person will experience the three major markers of impaired problem solving. The relationship between these two factors is complex and at this point in time, we can only be partly certain that a depressed person’s family life prior to the development of the disease has a large bearing on how resilient he/she will be against the mood disorder.

Generally speaking, people who were unable to experience relatively normal family conditions (especially during childhood) were twice or thrice as likely to suffer from impaired problem-solving skills.

How can you help a person who is showing signs of impaired problem solving abilities?

One of the best things that you can do to help out a depressed person who is rejecting everyone (even his/her own support system) is to be persistent with connecting, backing down and connecting again. A depressed individual can feel like he/she is being forced to do something that he/she doesn’t want to do and this causes the person to react negatively in this situation.

Be patient with the other person too because he/she may say things that he/she doesn’t really mean.

If a person with no mood disorder can lash out at other people in a fit of anger, imagine how difficult it is for a depressed person to process and regulate his/her emotions when he/she feels hopeless, helpless or angry. There’s nothing easy about being depressed.

It would be wrong to assume that just because a person is physically fit, he/she is healthy. If a physically fit individual is suffering from several chemical imbalances in his/her brain, then his/her functional level as a person is already severely affected.

A case in point would be a depressed person who lashes out at his partner for small conflicts and later becomes even angrier because of his own actions.

He ends up diverting his anger to his partner again and the partner feels utterly lost as to what must be done. What’s missing from this picture is the understanding that the depressed person is only trying to process his low mood, given the scarce mental and emotional resources available to him.