DEPRESSION

“ It all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves. ”
~ Carl Jung ~

© Pieter Harris. www.pieterharris.co.za

FIVE misconceptions

Misconception: Depression is inherited.

Fact: People can have a predisposition, a tendency or sensitivity to depression, but depression itself is not inherited.

2. Misconception: Depression is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain.

Fact: Biochemical imbalances are present in all depressions. But it does not mean that a biochemical imbalance is the cause of depression.

3. Misconception: Depression has a single cause. If we can trace this cause depression can be cured.

Fact: Depression has always been the result of more than just a single cause. It is in fact a interplay of various factors that cause depression

4. Misconception: There is someone out there who can heal.

Fact: The key factor in your treatment yourself!

5. Misconception: Depression is caused by people and circumstances beyond my control.

Fact: The more you are convinced that it is true, the more helpless and hopeless you are going to feel, convincing yourself that you can do nothing to improve your circumstances!  The realization that you always have a choice can greatly assist you to empower you, despite circumstances and other people.

What causes depression?

People develop depression for all kinds of reasons. It is a complex disorder with multiple causes and consequences for your mood, thoughts and body. It’s also common for people to blame themselves for developing depression.

Thoughts like “I’m no good” or “I wish I could be more like …” or “if only I could do …” are assumed to be at the root of the depression when they are more likely to be symptoms of it. It is useful to understand what factors in your life may have contributed to the downward spiral into depression. Mental health professionals typically group the risk factors for depression into three categories, the 3 P’s.

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Predisposing factors (Also called initial sensitizing factors) are the features of your background that increase your risk to depression. This includes your genes, upbringing, personal history, culture, recent events, your health, diet and other factors. Some of these you can change and others you have no control over.

Precipitating factors (also called symptom producing factors) are the psychological and physical triggers that can tip you over into depression, such as stress, illness or trauma.

Perpetuating factors (Also called symptom maintaining or intensifying factors.) differ from the other two causes by being things that happen afterwards. An example of this is drinking heavily as a way of coping with depression. The chemical effect of alcohol on the brain is also a cause of depression. This can set up a vicious cycle where the more depressed you feel, the more you drink, which in turn leads to feeling even more depressed.

Positive psychology has its own 3 Ps of depression in the way that pessimists explain negative events to themselves. When a bad thing happens to pessimists, they tend to think that it’s personal (‘it’s all my fault’), permanent (it can’t change’) and pervasive (‘it’ll affect everything). Pessimism is a thinking style that puts you on the fast track to depression.

Working with Depressive Thinking

Did you know that you don’t live in the real world? Because you don’t. None of us do. Human beings live in a world of ideas, interpretations, understandings, assumptions beliefs concepts, and opinions. We are connected to the so-called “real” world” through the tenuous threads of our sense organs – our eyes, ears, skin, nose, and mouth. These tell us about the world “out there,” then it’s up to us to make sense of it all.

There does seem to be a “real” world out there, beyond the curtain of our senses, but we are imperfect perceivers of it. Our last three bosses were bad-tempered, so we assume the next one will be too, sight unseen. Our fourth-grade teacher drilled it into us that we were stupid, and we have believed it ever since. At five we almost drowned, and have viewed the sea as a malevolent force from that day forward. Our view – our very experience – of the present is shaped by our past.

Many influences from the past are helpful, but all of us have distortions in the way we view the world. We use knowledge that is false, apply rules that no longer hold true, impose meaning where there is none, and ignore meaning where there is plenty. We view life through the distortions of a fun-house mirror constructed over the course of our lifetime. In some places, the mirror is relatively clear; in others, the image is cloudy or reversed.

Researchers repeatedly shown that depressed individuals have a set of powerful negative biases in their view of the world, as though they wear a particularly dark and bleak set of sunglasses, and that such biases may contribute to the development of the depression. Whether or not negative thinking plays a part in the origin of a depression, however, negative thinking is almost certain to be a symptom – one that creates a snowball effect to maintain the depression.

During depression, the biases and distortions we have carried with us all our lives tend to become more powerful. If normally you have vague suspicions of your own inadequacy, during depression they will become absolute convictions of your utter worthlessness. If normally the world occasionally seems lacklustre, during depression it will seem crushingly, oppressively bleak. Generally we do not create new hells for ourselves during depression. The same ones simply grow hotter.

Cognitive therapy has been repeatedly demonstrated effective for depression. Many of the steps of cognitive work can be carried out on your own, provided you are diligent at tracking down your thoughts and challenging the ones that don’t measure up.

We will regularly refer to the idea of symbolic value. The events in our lives symbolize more to us than meets the eye. They also represent past experiences, omens of possible futures, and meanings beyond the obvious. We spin the facts out into a world of meaning. A friend forgetting to say goodbye may be troublesome, but it is not the lack of a goodbye that hurts. Maybe she takes us for granted. Maybe she secretly doesn’t like us anymore. Perhaps no one else does either. Maybe they never did. Maybe all of our friends are frauds, tolerating us only for what they can get out of us. The stab is not the failure to say goodbye, it is the symbolic value of the event: what the event seems to mean. The stab comes from the false assumption that we are alone and unloved and that nothing can ever change.

But what if our interpretation of the event is mistaken? Then we have created a nightmare world for ourselves that may have no relationship to reality. It is here that cognitive therapy works: on the manufactured tortures we put ourselves through. Life is hard enough. There are disappointments, tragedies, and losses that may strain your ability to cope. What need is there for imaginary torments? If you were to reduce the symbolic value of events, or bring it some balance, perhaps you could cope with all that fate brings. Perhaps this adjustment in perception would be enough for you to find peace. You could respond to events as they are, not as you fear them to be. This is the task of cognitive work.