Depression: What Are Your African Violets?

by Mark Sichel, LCSW

Many years ago, when I was a student, I heard a wonderful story about a therapist who was treating a patient with severe depression. She was a lonely woman who had many health problems and struggled with profound depressive symptoms. She felt that there was nothing positive about herself and nothing about her life that merited fighting her suicidal impulses.

The therapist tried every treatment technique he could, but the patient remained dangerously depressed and increasingly hopeless. One day the patient mentioned that her one remaining pleasure was growing and tending to her African Violets. She quickly moved on to another topic, one of her chronic tales of misery, but the therapist stopped her. He asked her to tell him more about her violets. She said she had grown hundreds of African Violet plants. These are plants that flourish in the dark. The violets blossomed into beautiful flowers in this woman's dark home, the perfect symbol of strength, hope, worth and loveliness in an otherwise dark and dreary environment.

The patient and therapist continued to talk about the woman's African Violets, and with her therapist's encouragement, she decided to share them with the community at a local craft fair. She received tremendous acclaim and word spread in her community about her breathtaking violet collection. With her newfound involvement in the community, this woman was once again able to feel self-worth, hope and joy in living and finally her depression lifted.

I share this story with all of you because it beautifully illustrates the restorative effects for depressed people of community service and gratitude. When we give back to the world, as this woman was able to do with her violet collection, we feel better about ourselves. We receive validation, our self-esteem rises, and we become occupied in positive experiences that allow our thinking to move out of depression.

What are YOUR African Violets?

© Mark Sichel, LCSW

Mark Sichel, LCSW is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Mark is the author of Healing from Family Rifts, a guide to mending even the most difficult family estrangements, and how to reconcile with yourself if your family rift cannot be healed. Visit the author's web site at