What is Depression?
Whilst everyone will experience sadness at different points in life, especially in reaction to loss experiences, people who meet criteria for a Depressive Disorder are experiencing low mood that is far more pervasive in its impact on perception, emotion, thinking patterns, and behaviours. A person suffering from depression may experience a number of the following symptoms:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, or irritability.
- Lessened interest in activities that the individual used to find pleasurable.
- Significant weight loss or weight gain that has not been achieved with conscious intention
- Changes in sleep patterns (either insomnia or hypersomnia)
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death, suicide, or self-harm
What Causes Depression?
Whilst debate continues about the respective influence of nature (i.e. biological influences) and nurture (i.e. environmental influences) in causing depression, clinical experience suggests that for most people, it is a combination of multiple factors that contribute to the experience of depression:
- Stressful life circumstances, such as loss of a loved one, demanding work environments, chronic illness, poverty etc.
- Family history of depressive illness (this could imply both biological and environmental influences)
- Chemical imbalance in the brain, particularly with respect to Serotonin (many antidepressant medications target Serotonin).
- A disposition towards perfectionistic thinking, a lack of interpersonal assertiveness, or social withdrawal.
- Substance abuse
- Hormonal imbalances, such as for women adjusting after having a child
- Prior exposure to traumatic experiences, such as a near-death experience or a history of abuse.
Unfortunately, many of these risk factors tend to feed on each other in their interactions, making the individual feel especially trapped in their depression. For example, a person may be more inclined to reach for substances like alcohol or drugs following a traumatic event or loss experience in an attempt to escape painful feelings, but such substance abuse is likely to disrupt chemicals in the brain and further exacerbate depressive symptoms. Or another person with a tendency to place perfectionistic standards on themselves may attempt to combat feelings of worthlessness by over-working, which could lead to burnout and further exacerbation of depressive symptoms. An especially common vicious cycle that occurs with depression is a lessening in the variety of activities that a person engages in, because they are feeling low in energy, or overwhelmed, or they don’t anticipate that anything will feel enjoyable. Unfortunately, days filled with monotony and inactivity only serve to lower mood further and decrease motivation over time.
How Does Next Wave Psychology Provide Treatment for Depression?
Given the complex interplay of factors involved in creating and maintaining a depressive episode, it is not surprising that most people with depression feel like they are attempting to swim against a strong and overwhelming current. Therapy aimed at integrating a mixture of strategies for coping, education about depressive factors, and building a strong therapeutic relationship to help combat feelings of isolation, is likely to be most beneficial in turning the tide on depressive symptoms. Depending on which risk factors have lead an individual to a depressive episode, effective therapy will need to be tailored specifically to such factors. For example, someone struggling with substance abuse will need a treatment approach tailored to treating addiction, whilst another person who has an unprocessed history of traumatic events will likely require treatment that is more trauma-informed.