If you think about it, if a person is frustrated, he’s not really depressed. Or if they are depressed, they are not all that depressed.
In that sense, frustration is a good sign in terms of mental health because it means that at least some positive processes are at work.
How do we know this?
Let us think for a moment about what frustration even is in the first place. Frustration occurs when one’s goals are not being met. But look at the word goals in that sentence. The existence of goals in any person is a good sign in terms of mental health. If you have goals, you are looking to the future, and you are probably looking to the future in a positive way. A frustrated person almost always wants things to get better. They dream of better days in the future or even present, and they are frustrated that they cannot reach this better life that they want. They are living a lousy life and they are not happy with it because they think they deserve better.
Sure a frustrated person is angry, but most frustrated people are so mad about their situation that they are usually trying whatever they can do to make things better. I would argue that most of the time these efforts simply fail, but they are commendable nonetheless. A frustrated person is frantically trying to improve their lives but they are running into what seem to be insurmountable roadblocks along the way. This angers the person as these walls are blocking the way to a better life.
The main thing is, if you are frustrated, you have not yet given up. A frustrated person by definition is not hopeless. They are angry that his hopes are being thwarted. At least they have some hopes!
The essence of depression is hopelessness. I have been around depressed people my whole life and hopelessness seems to be at the heart of most fairly serious depression. In fact, if you are not hopeless, I would argue that you cannot possibly be all that depressed. The depressed person has given up. They have surrendered. They are waving the white flag and saying it’s useless to try anymore. Generally they see no hope of things getting better in the future. This is usually a cognitive distortion or false belief but it is a belief that seems to be at the heart of nearly all depression.
I have seen cases of moderate depression or what might be called dysthymia or even Depressive Personality Disorder (which needs to be in the DSM by the way). The cases I have seen were simply lifelong low-level depressions that almost seemed to be more characterological than acquired.
That is, the low level depression seemed to be an essential aspect of their character or personality. It’s how they looked at the world. They thought this view is right, proper, and correct, as all personality disordered people feel this way. As such, they don’t want to change. The folks I have met with Depressive Personality Disorder had no desire whatsoever to change which once again speaks to Axis 2 Personality Disorder as opposed to Axis 1 acquired and symptomatic.
The essence of the worldview of the people I met with this condition was pessimism. It is not so much that they felt hopeless and they were not depressed enough to have given up. They got up every day and did everything that they had to do, but they simply did not have any notions that anything was going to get better in the future. The future always seemed lousy, no matter what. But they soldier on anyway, trudging doggedly into the darkness forever looming in front of them.
So we see that depressive states are characterized by either hopelessness (where serious, acquired and Axis 1 treatable) or pessimism. These people don’t really have any goals because they can’t see anything good in the future worth having any goals about. They are not frustrated because there’s nothing to be frustrated about. Sure, the world sucks as they see it, but this is how they expect the world to be so there is no frustrated desire to see a better way. The frustrated person dreams of a better future. The depressed person has no dreams of the future as they see nothing but darkness ahead.
This hopelessness is why depressives are so often suicidal. When you’ve given up all hope, why live another day? Why stick around? You don’t see any way out and you see nothing but horrible pain and misery ahead, sometimes decades of it. If nothing good is ever going to happen and you will live in horrific pain for the rest of your life, why not just take off? End it all. End the pain. Leave. Go bye bye.
I would argue that a frustrated person is rarely suicidal. However, frustration, pessimism and hopelessness are way stations on the road to a view of having a darkening future.
Frustration is the mildest stop along this road because although the future seems dark indeed, the frustrated person has at least some hope that there’s a glimmer out there somewhere, and this is why they paddle frantically against the riptide.
The next stop is probably pessimism. The pessimist does not really lack hope. Instead they just view the future as more of the same old crap. The hopeless person and the pessimistic person both see nothing good ahead, but the hopeless person has surrendered and is not going to even try anymore, while when the pessimist sees that morning light come streaming in and he gets up to do it again, to get it up again.
The pessimist is still going to try! And there is your difference. Obviously one can move forward along this Highway of Blackened Dreams as the rest stops get progressively worse and more dilapidated. Frustration can easily lead to pessimism and then on to hopelessness. And the pessimist surely can become hopeless. This progressions of gloom are going all the time, all over the world.
So it may appear that the frustrated person is suicidal, but really they are not. What you are seeing is a frustrated person whose frustration defenses are breaking down. They stop dreaming of a better world and conclude that there will be one. From there it is a short stop from soldiering on to giving up altogether.
So a person who appears highly frustrated becomes hopeless very quickly, or moves back and forth between frustration and hopeless. And as soon as frustration moves into hopelessness, the danger begins. A frustrated person can throw up their hands and become hopeless and in an hour grab a rope or a gun and walk off the abyss. But that would not have happened had the transitioned to hopelessness not occurred. In most cases, hopelessness is a necessary and sufficient factor in suicide.
One of the dangerous things about frustration is that it can head into pessimism and hopelessness pretty quickly. Frustration is probably a risk factor for hopelessness and depression. How long the frustration lasts before it gives in and caves is probably down to ego strength. A very strong ego always sees a brighter future, no matter how black things get.
They can tolerate an incredible amount of frustration for many years and they still glimpse the light in the distance, faint as it may be. Frustration is hard to take. It is a very unpleasant state as I can attest to. Many people probably have a limited ability to cope with desires that seemed to be thwarted with no end in sight. one truism of psychology is that most people hate to fail. In fact, they hate to fail so much that if they consistently fail at something, at some point they just say the Hell with it and quit.
The ego cannot tolerate endless failure. Personally, once I persistently fail at something, I generally just throw it in and say that I am not going to even attempt that task anymore. Hence, it is understandable why many people fail or drop out of school.
School’s no fun if you keep failing all of your assignments. Why stick around and continue to fail? The ego says forget it. Repeated frustration is very hard on the ego, and who can blame the ego for feeling this way. The ego’s task is to keep you from feeling like a loser. Repeated failure spells loser, loser, loser. Just give up already and preserve some ego strength!
A frustrated person is in a sense continuing to soldier on in the face of endless failure to achieve their goals. Since people hate to fail over and over (And who can blame them?), many people probably have little tolerance for frustration. Instead they may turn to drugs, drink or nihilism. If your goals are always being cockblocked, you can always just lower your goals.
At some point, you will probably have modest enough goals that your goals are pretty easy to meet. And here we meet the people who seem to be living what most would call lousy lives yet they have simply resigned to it, do not expect anything better and have zero expectations for the future. Yet they often seem fairly happy even though they have given up in a sense. They are now easily able to achieve their reduced goals and they killed their dreams of more long ago.
It is a cliche, but there is a place for everyone in this world. The key to life is finding that little place for yourself, calling it your own, killing your irrational dreams of achieving more, accepting your lot in life with philosophical recognition, and trying to wring some sort of happiness and satisfaction out whatever cards fate has contemptuously drawn for you.
And always remember that frustration is better than it sounds. Some hope is generally better than none.