What is depression?
Depression is more than being unhappy – it’s a sustained period of sadness that affects you most of the time. Often things that would normally be enjoyable lose their appeal. You can have disturbed sleep (over-sleeping or insomnia), no energy, restlessness, poor concentration, and feelings of worthlessness. In some cases thoughts of suicide are experienced, and unfortunately some people will act on these thoughts. Depression should be treated seriously. It might provide good subject matter for songwriters and poets, but for most of us there’s no good reason to stay depressed.
There are different types of depression, with different causes. The most common type of depression, called a Major Depressive Disorder, is usually triggered by something bad happening such as a loss, difficulties at work, or relationship issues. But not always; sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any trigger. Brain chemistry can also play a part, as well as longstanding personality characteristics.
A psychological explanation of depression is that some experience in life has taught you to assume something negative about yourself. In the same way that you form an opinion about other people, you do the same thing about yourself, and people vulnerable to depression have a negative view of themselves. Generally these assumptions aren’t activated – they lurk in the background until something triggers them. For example, a business deal that goes bad might activate an assumption that you’re a failure. You then have a stream of negative thoughts, often triggered by otherwise ordinary events; hearing someone laugh, you might assume they’re laughing at you. Or someone else getting a higher mark at school might trigger thoughts that you’re a failure. Depression is a nasty beast because it feeds itself. Thinking negatively clouds your judgment in general, making it harder to see your way out. You lose motivation, so you don’t do the things that you normally would, which means you’re unhappier. And if you’re not doing things that you need to do, you’re less likely to feel successful. Depression isn’t just a low mood. It has a few dimensions apart from emotional – behavioural, motivational, cognitive (the way you think) and physical. If reading this is bringing you down, read on, the story gets better!
Psychological treatment is effective for depression! That’s one of the main reasons why the government decided to add clinical psychology to Medicare – there are hundreds of studies from around the world, including Australia, proving that psychological treatment can beat depression, and keep you happy.
Treatment helps you to understand how your depression fuelled. Then we cut the fuel line. Okay, it’s a bit more complicated than cutting a fuel line, but the idea is to work out the causes of depression and deal with them. Negative thinking is a major cause of depressed mood, so you’re taught ways to change the way you think. We’re not talking about believing things that are untrue or ridiculous, like “you’re the most beautiful person in the world” (my mum says that I am), or that you will be the next President of the USA. Rather, you’ll learn how to be much more accurate with your thinking, and that will mean seeing the world in a much more positive, realistic way. Usually we start with the thoughts that are active in your mind. You might want to have a look at Challenging Negative Thoughts for the sort of questions that can help you to see things in a more balanced way. Then we target the incorrect assumptions that you hold about yourself, or even about the world.
But wait, that’s not all. As well as changing thinking patterns, changes in behaviour are generally helpful too. This can range from simple activities that normally give you some enjoyment, to major life decisions so you’re pursuing a direction that brings you satisfaction.