Before we look at ways of treating depression, we should first learn what it is.
What is Depression?
The word depression is used by many to describe various and sometimes overlapping experiences. For some people, being depressed means feeling sad, ‘blue’, downhearted, disappointed, detached or upset. However it is possible a person can feel all these emotions without actually being what is termed ‘clinically’ depressed. Feelings of sadness or the ‘blues’ can be situational but generally brief in duration which can have slight effects on normal functioning.
Clinical depression is an emotional, physical and cognitive (thinking) state that is intense and long-lasting. It has more negative effects on a person’s day-to-day life. Approximately one in five people in Australia in their lifetime will experience an episode of clinical depression.
It is also important to distinguish depression from the sadness which we naturally experience after events such as loss, and during bereavement. The grief associated with loss is often intense and long lasting, but such emotions are indeed a healthy response to loss and are part of a process to allow people to adjust to their new life circumstances.
Depression on the other hand is unhealthy. It can have significant and detrimental effects on many aspects of a person’s life. For improvement to take place, it is generally important for a person (and/or psychologist) to consider what is causing and maintaining the depression. This may involve a person identifying and addressing life stresses or relationships differently, making certain lifestyle changes, regaining their self-esteem or reconnecting with his or her values.
It is also very helpful for depressed people to understand what depression is and is not. It is certainly nothing to be ashamed of or to feel guilty about having. It is definitely not a character flaw or a sign of weakness, or a lack of personal strength or discipline. It is not just a ‘mood’ that someone can ‘snap out of’. Most importantly, people need to understand that depression does not need to be permanent and the chances for recovery are very good. A number of psychological treatments and pharmacological treatments (antidepressant medication) are readily available, effective and affordable.
What are the causes of depression?
Before we look at ways of treating depression, we should look at the causes. Depression is usually not caused by one factor but is likely to be the result of a number of inter-related factors. There are a number of factors that may play a role in the development of depression and they are listed below.
There is evidence that some people, more than others, have a genetic predisposition to developing depression. Having a family history of depression does not necessarily mean that a person will develop depression, but it does mean that the risk of developing depression can be higher than those with no family history. There are usually other situational factors involved such as a chronic illness or stressful life event that may act as a trigger for the development of a depressive episode.
It has been found that depressed people demonstrate abnormal functioning of some chemicals in the brain. Neurotransmitters that send signals from one part of the brain to the next are naturally occurring chemicals . In depressed people, these mood-regulating neurotransmitters do not function normally and this interferes with signals sent to the brain resulting in their mood being affected.
Some people have personality types that are more likely to develop depression. There is evidence that suggests people who experience high anxiety levels, who are very sensitive to criticism, or who have a perfectionist personality have a higher than normal risk of developing depression.
Stressful life events can certainly act as a trigger for depression. While it is normal for people to experience some level of depressed mood following a stressful event such as a relationship break-up, this often reduces over time. However, for some people the depressed mood will persist much longer and can lead to clinical depression. There is evidence available that certain life events that put a person at a higher risk for depression are normally those that impact on the person’s self-esteem. Examples include a person experiencing a relationship breakdown or a financial or job loss.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Before we look at ways of treating depression, we should look at the symptoms. There are a number of symptoms that people experience when they have depression and they are listed below.
Loss of interest in pleasurable activities and daily routine
People experiencing depression are normally unable to complete daily tasks and just do not enjoy activities they previously took pleasure in. They usually miss out on positive experiences associated with a sense of achievement or the pleasure normally derived from completing tasks. As a result, it is common that the people around them may suffer as a result of their depression too.
Irritability, agitation and fatigue
People with depression often experience agitation and irritability, and sometimes complain of exhaustion. Often they feel frustrated with the level of support available or the rate of recovery and become annoyed that they do not have the energy to do anything. They many cases they become more easily upset with those around them. Irritability, fatigue and agitation are often made worse as a result of changes in a person’s sleeping patterns and other symptoms associated with depression, such as negative thinking.
Worrying and negative thinking
People with depression are often concerned about the future and have negative thoughts about themselves and their situation. These thinking patterns are very unhelpful in that they can reduce a person’s ability to focus on their recovery. This also tends to increase their vulnerability to other unhealthy emotions and behaviours that can make the overall situation even worse.
Changes in sleeping patterns
Changes in sleeping patterns (either sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping) are often experienced by individuals with depression. Disruptive sleeping patterns can certainly make a person feel much worse and make normal communication and activities seem much more difficult and frustrating.
People who are depressed more often than not feel trapped or hopeless about their situation. It is common to experience suicidal thoughts and feelings. When their mood lifts these feelings are usually replaced by ones that have a more positive perspective of the future.
How is depression treated?
When discussing treating depression, we need to look at the two major forms or options of treatment for depression. They may be used individually or in combination, depending on the type of depression that the person is experiencing.
One option for treating depression is to use psychological treatments that provide a supportive environment for a person to manage and work through their difficulties. Psychologists help treat depression by using various skills and strategies to change negative thinking patterns and behaviours that contribute to depression. These treatments of depression also lessen underlying sensitivity to future episodes of depression. There are a number of psychological treatments used for treating depression that have research evidence supporting their effectiveness and My Psychologist can provide a number of these treatment options.
Another option for treating depression is medication. One critical aspect of clinical depression is the change in the balance of chemicals in the brain. As discussed above, this change does indeed have an impact on mood. If some specific chemicals in the brain are very low or lacking in level, this can result or contribute to feelings of low mood, fatigue and sadness. Antidepressant medications are drugs that have been developed to help restore the brain’s chemical balance. As a result that have the ability to improve a person’s mood which is an effective way of treating depression.
For some types of depression, often more severe depression, treating depression successfully requires a combination of both antidepressant medication and psychological treatment. This is regularly shown to be most helpful way of treating depression.. Antidepressant medication helps change a person’s mood and most often will increase the benefit of (and their responsiveness to) psychological treatment. Psychological treatment for treating depression provides support and strategies to change a person’s depressed thinking and behaviour, and it also improves their long-term coping skills to minimise future relapse.
My Psychologist is happy to work with your general practitioner to provide you with the best possible options of treating depression that suits your individual circumstances. Speak to us today to start your journey to better health.
Information above discussing treating depression was sourced from the Australian Psychological Society