Change Your Understanding About Why People With Depression Stay In Bed (and Where To Find Hope)

By Nancy Virden (c)2022

Psychology Today posted an article by Jonathan Rottenberg Ph.D. titled, Why Do Depressed People Lie in Bed? My blog today begins with an excerpt (with minor edits for clarity) followed by my personal experience. 

From Dr. Rottenberg

Why do depressed people lie in bed? It isn’t because of great snuggle time under the blankets. It’s because depressed people can’t bring themselves to get out of bed. Almost any activity or task becomes a painful ordeal, even things as simple as taking a shower or getting dressed… How does this happen?

The intuitive answer is that a lack of motivation is to blame. Depressed people are directionless because they are under-committed to goals…

The intuitive answer is okay as far as it goes. The problem is that it just doesn’t go very far. It begs the question of how a person loses the desire to pursue goals in the first place… Moods have a function: Moods help us pursue goals efficiently. High moods help us to more vigorously pursue rewards. Low moods tell us when our progress towards goals is poor. Often, low moods first arise when we’ve hit an obstacle, or when an important goal is threatened. Our usual first reaction to a low mood is to redouble effort towards the blocked goal. If the goal still proves to be unreachable, the low mood will escalate. At some point, something has to give: Usually, the person will give up, or scale back on the goal and/or move on to another activity that has a better pay-off…

I believe that humans are the only species that can decide to ignore low mood and to continue [to pursue] an unreachable goal. .. To resolve the standoff, the mood system must do something more drastic: It turns down the volume on goal pursuit, not only on the one goal but on goal pursuit across the board. Eventually … the result is flat-on-your-back depression, with fatigue, torpor, a lack of motivation, the whole nine yards.

This alternative theory turns the standard explanation on its head. Depressed people don’t end up lying in bed because they are under-committed to goals. They end up lying in bed because they are overcommitted to goals that are failing badly. The idea that depressed people cannot disengage efforts from failure is a relatively new theory. It has not been much tested in research studies. However, the idea is well worth exploring. It fits well clinically with the kinds of situations that often precipitate serious depression—the battered wife who cannot bring herself to leave her troubled marriage, the seriously injured athlete who cannot bring himself to retire, the laid-off employee who cannot bring herself to abandon her chosen career despite a lack of positions in her line of work. Seeing these depressions in terms of unreachable goals may be useful clinically, and may help us better understand how ordinary low moods can escalate into incapacitating bouts of depression.

full article

My experience

For thirty-three years, pursuing a hopeless marriage and meaningful love from a husband incapable of deep love, nearly destroyed me. I was occasionally satisfied or appeased with the superficial love he offered, but my heart was emptied at times of hope because the sense of aloneness became too much. I used terms like “he does not care” while he would claim he did. In his short attention span for the needs of others, he did care to his utmost. It makes sense that, held back by narcissism, he could not comprehend the world of love that is out there and available to him. How very sad.

This hurt me and our children terribly. I’m tempted to blame his parents and their constant doting. He could do no wrong in their eyes. However, that is too simple and places the burden on people who also did not know how to experience connectedness. His father especially was withdrawn emotionally from his son and wife. His mother, more capable of showing emotion, was physically disabled and literally could not play with him at a child’s level. Both waited for the child to instigate meaningful conversations, and so he never learned that the world did not revolve around him.

I had hoped with all my heart that our marriage would break the cruel legacies of family history on both sides. For many years, outwardly it seemed to have done so. Inside, my pain was exacerbated by fear of letting anyone know the truth. Hidden from the children as much as possible, and hidden from the churches where he pastored or served as a leader, I did not disclose much to family or friends. My reasons were many but mostly it was because I was unaware that I could.

The time I finally shared with a pastor one sentence, “There is trouble in our marriage”, he shut us both out. Communication ceased between him and us. He told us to see a counselor- which we did briefly. The counselor decided quickly that we were on the right track moving forward. That pat on the head and white-washed declaration of okayness threw me into years of confusion and self-blame.

Eighteen years later I asked another pastor how it was acceptable for a husband to not love his wife and still be a leader in the church. All I remember about his response is that I left with a knot in my stomach and an aching internal argument between my instincts and false guilt.

I do not blame these men; they were as ignorant as I was.

Six more years had passed when I attempted suicide in 2011. Depression was very much linked to false hope similar to kicking a bent can down the road expecting it to roll straight. On a spiritual level, my hope was misplaced. No human, not even a great husband, can meet the needs of another completely. My will to live was tied tightly to this impossibility and I had not learned to believe my worth and purpose came from the lips of God.

Five years of therapy slowly but permanently changed my worldview. I am God’s on-purpose creation, purely beautiful in his eyes, and loved so deeply that there is nothing I could do or say to make it end. I’d been a disciple of Jesus for 38 years before understanding this. At age 53, life began anew as if I were young.

I do not know that the theory mentioned in the above article is the end-all of why people with depression stay in bed. Certainly, hopelessness has to come from somewhere, and no one is likely to have dropped from being an active participant in life to not moving out of bed over sheer laziness.

Here is my prayer for each of us: Heavenly Father, I praise you for being all-wise. You know our hearts and how our bodies work. You do not count depression against us, and instead, use such trials to teach and grow us. May our eyes turn to You always when life hurts. Help us to overcome what threatens to take us out. May we love Your Son Jesus, and rely on You to know what is best. Amen.


Today’s Helpful Word

Psalm 25:4-6

 Show me the right path, O Lord; Point out the road for me to follow.  Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me.
    All day long I put my hope in you. Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love, which you have shown from long ages past.

How the Difference Maker Lifts You Above Depressive Thoughts

If you are feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here.

If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S. or go to your nearest emergency room. In the EU call 112. (For other international emergency numbers, go here ). Hope and help are yours!

Always the Fight Ministries (ATFM) has been displaying compassion for those fighting mental illness, addiction, or abuse since 2012. Nancy is the founder and voice of ATFM and openly shares her emotional resurrection from despair. NOTE: Nancy is not a doctor or a mental health professional, and speaks only from personal experience and observations. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.



    • Unfortunately, people, in general, do not understand how to relate to or respond to mental illness. It is confusing to them and they resort to platitudes or harsh rules they think will apply to the situation. I believe most church people deserve the benefit of the doubt due to their ignorance. Of course, not everyone means well. I wish stigma was gone across all of society and especially in our churches. I’m working on it.

      Liked by 1 person

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