What Is Depression?
Depression is a disorder that is evidenced by excessive sadness, loss of interest in enjoyable things, and low motivation.
It is normal to experience feelings of sadness and dispair in response to adverse life events. Such events could include loss, major life changes, stress, or disappointment. In most cases, the sad feelings resolve as you come to terms with the changes in your life. In situations such as bereavement, these feelings may persist for months and return at significant times, such as birthdays and anniversaries related to the lost loved one. Provided you have times when you can enjoy things, however, this sadness is not a sign of depression.
Depression is common. One in three people will experience a major depressive episode at some stage in their lives. While most cases of depression are mild, about one person in ten will have a moderate or severe episode.
What Are The Signs Of Depression?
The features of depression include:
Feeling miserable. This misery is present for much of the day but may vary in its intensity. The misery lasts for weeks.
Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities.
Slowed or inefficient thinking with poor concentration, leading to difficulties sorting out problems or making plans or decisions.
Thoughts that you would be better off dead or of harming yourself in some way.
Loss of appetite with excessive loss of weight.
Loss of interest in sex.
Loss of energy, even when not physically active.
Slowed activity and speech.
Any of these features may serve as warning signs of depression. You need to exhibit at least five of these symptoms to be suffering with a depressive disorder.
What Causes Depression?
No one knows exactly what causes depression. It is clear that genetic factors are important in many cases of depression. Depression seems to run in families (as do other mood disorders), and about 30% of the predisposition for depression is due to genetic influences.
Stressful life events play a part in the onset or relapse of depression. Ongoing conflicts with others can take their toll on our well-being, as can other social and environmental stressors such as financial difficulties, retirement, unemployment, childbirth, loneliness, or loss of someone or something important. In vulnerable people, these unpleasant life events may be enough to cause or worsen a depressive illness.
A person’s personality characteristics are an important factor. When people are depressed, they usually have a very negative view of themselves and the world. They do not appreciate good things, and bad things seem overwhelming. Some people have a tendency to view things this way even when they are not depressed. In other words, they may have a depressive personality style.
Another possible cause of depression that should not be overlooked is physical illness or medications. Glandular fever, influenza, hepatitis, thyroid hormones, anaemia, diabetes, birth control pills, alcohol and other substances of abuse, or other medications such as those for heart or blood pressure conditions, may all cause symptoms of depression.
How To Deal With Depression
There are a range of ways to deal with depression, and often they are best used in conjunction with each other. The primary medical options are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), antidepressant medication, and in some severe cases, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). Education and coping strategies are also important when learning to manage your depression.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is an excellent treatment for depression, alone or in conjunction with medication. CBT involves learning:
to control the negative thoughts that lead to loss of interest and feelings of worthlessness;
to combat the emotions of sadness and hopelessness, and;
Loss of energy, even when not physically active.
to counteract the behaviours related to poor concentration and thoughts of death
Techniques for problem solving are also taught whether the problem is a consequence or cause of the depression. CBT is very effective and 80% of people with mild, moderate or severe depression improve.
CBT will often be recommended when:
The depression is mild, moderate, or severe.
The person has had a prior positive response to CBT.
A competent, trained clinician who has expertise in CBT is available, or the person is prepared to use internet CBT.
There is a medical contraindication to taking medications.
The depressed person prefers CBT or iCBT.
As the name suggests, cognitive behavioural therapy works by teaching a person to change their thoughts (cognition) and their behaviours. The aim is to assess the negative thoughts a person is having about themselves, and their view of the world, and to replace them with more positive and constructive thoughts and behaviours. By addressing the thoughts and behaviours which contribute to the development and maintenance of problems, CBT seeks to offer a holistic approach to mental health care.
In its simplest form, CBT requires only two things: learning and doing. A person undertaking CBT will learn coping skills and techniques, both ones that are pertinent to their health issue, and more general ones that will help with everyday life. They will learn about their health condition, and how it is being maintained. This aspect of CBT is founded on the adage that knowledge is power. The more someone knows about their own disorder, the better equipped they will be to recognise its symptoms and do something about it.
With this knowledge, a person will then be equipped to actively change their behaviours. They will be able to face their fears, or to deal with situations that they were previously unable to deal with. CBT seeks to enforce this relationship between knowledge and activity, in order for a person to take practical steps to alleviate their symptoms and to recover.