Depression Treatment and Symptoms

Why mental defeat creeps up on you

When you’re thinking about depression treatment and symptoms you’ll recognise that sometimes you feel like giving up and letting everything just drop. This is a normal reaction when things feel overwhelming. But sometimes when we are faced with circumstances that feel beyond our control this need to let go of everything can get out of control and turn into mental defeat.

Depression treatment and symptoms

Depression treatment and symptoms: Mental defeat

Mental defeat is often seen in clinical cases of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) where it is a whole body response to overwhelming fear, and the threat of death. The survivor often cannot shake off the belief that there is nothing they can do to protect themselves. This leaves them with an ever present sense of vulnerability and threat. Mental defeat is not limited to PTSD however, a recent study into chronic pain revealed that mental defeat is correlated with how distressing chronic pain is felt to be.

Depression treatment and symptoms: Psychological coping

One of the core elements of psychological coping is the belief that you have the necessary means to get through your present troubles with your identity intact. However when mental defeat creeps up on you it attacks your sense of self; leaving you wondering if you can truly manage, while suspecting you cannot. This delicate balance on the edge of coping is both distressing and debilitating. Chronic pain can often leave sufferers with an intense psychological reaction to pain feeling like it has taken away their autonomy and identity.

Depression treatment and symptoms - On the edge

Depression treatment and symptoms: The study of mental defeat in chronic pain

Mental defeat was measured by agreement or otherwise with statements like these:

because of the pain I felt destroyed as a person’

‘I felt humiliated and that I was losing my sense of inner dignity’.

The study used questionnaires to assess mental defeat, pain, distress, and disability in a sample of Hong Kong Chinese. The results are also considered to be relevant to European chronic pain sufferers. Three groups of chronic pain sufferers were compared. When the pain levels of the groups was statistically controlled for the results showed that those volunteers who also scored higher on measures of mental defeat showed more poor functioning and distress, over and above the effects of pain severity.

Depression treatment and symptoms: Mental defeat is linked to depression and anxiety

Those volunteers who scored higher in mental defeat also scored higher on measures of depression and anxiety. They were also much more likely to seek specialist treatment for chronic pain.

Mental defeat is pernicious and can creep up on anyone. It has long been recognised that depression elevates the impact of pain and causes the feeling of mental defeat to be stronger and more persistent.

Chronic pain is a real problem in our modern society, with some estimates putting the incidence of chronic pain in the community as high as 46.5%. So there is a real need to provide psychological interventions and treatment strategies that help defuse the mental defeat that creeps in with chronic pain.

Depression treatment and symptoms: My CBT therapy tools for tackling mental defeat

Depression Treatment and Symptoms - Tools to tackle it

  1. To see the pain as an enemy is to open the path to victimisation. If you give the pain control over your identity then you are in a struggle you cannot win. The pain is not your enemy it is simply an experience you are having. Therefore accept the pain and don’t think of it as an intruder, an enemy or a life spoiler.
  2. Don’t fight pain with rejection or avoidance. Of course you must minimise the effects of pain by careful management but don’t refuse to accept its existence. This only places you in an oppositional place where you cannot win. I have had many clients who started out saying things like:

‘I can’t accept the pain’ I didn’t ask for it, it has robbed me of my life I won’t let it defeat me.

These are understandable sentiments but they are not usually conducive to a good outcome. Don’t fight the existence of the pain but do manage it as well as you are able.

  1. Do allow the pain to flow and ebb. Accept that it is there and is a part of you right now. Although intend that it will diminish as your engagement with it diminishes.  Pain feeds off your attention, anger, avoidance and disability. When you stop feeding pain it loses strength. Stop feeding it your negative emotions.
  2. Depression increases the burden of pain by as much as 15%. Imagine if you could have 15% less pain by changing your mental attitude. This is the goal, as you turn mental defeat, depression, anxiety and the feelings of helplessness that accompany mental defeat away you reduce your burden of pain. This in turn helps empower you to accept the pain you have; reducing further your anger over it. This further decreases your burden of pain and you become someone who has pain but is not defeated by pain.
  3. In the end mental defeat is a forlorn attempt to fight yourself. It just never works. Use a different strategy and you will get a different outcome. And along the way you will become empowered once again.


Mental Defeat Predicts Distress and Disability in Hong Kong Chinese with Chronic Pain (2013) Tang NKShum SHLeung PWChen PPSalkovskis PM.

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