Depression is a major problem in England today. Fifty-five percent of the population say they have been depressed and thirty-one million antidepressants are prescribed per year..
Depression is characterized by a range of symptoms which include loss of interest or enjoyment in activities, change in sleep patterns, loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, poor concentration, change in weight, and suicidal thoughts. I would like to present several approaches that can be helpful in overcoming or reducing mild to moderate depression and its symptoms.
1) Emotional Support
People who are depressed often feel very alone and undervalued. They crave care, empathy and support from others. Gaining emotional support can play a vital role in recovery.
2) Challenging Pessimistic Thought Patterns
A depressed person is often caught in a vicious cycle of negative thinking. Aaron Beck, the founder of cognitive therapy, describes three elements of depressive thinking, known as the ‘depressive cognition triad’. These are thinking negative thoughts about (1) oneself, as in ‘I’m useless, inadequate, etc.’, (2) past and present experiences, for example ‘nothing works out for me’, and (3) the future, such as ‘it will never get better’.
Breaking unhelpful cycles of thought by challenging their validity can reduce their effect. This can be done by pointing out cognitive biases. For example, a person may be giving selective attention to the worst possibilities, or over-generalizing, seeing a single negative event as the whole picture. One approach which can be very valuable is to record one’s negative thoughts, then weigh the evidence for them being true or false, and then look for a more realistic attitude. Another approach, known as reframing, facilitates gaining a wider perspective. For example, being unsuccessful in a given area may be interpreted to mean ‘I am a failure’, and become a source of hopelessness. But with a shift in focus, a more positive, realistic perspective can be gained. Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, explains that one who has a larger perspective, like a belief in God and an afterlife, and loses a job, can view it as just a temporary defeat.
Depression often causes a loss of interest in activities as well as social withdrawal. But not participating in the activities one enjoys usually serves to maintain the low mood. Restoring activity levels, especially those that bring a sense of pleasure or achievement, is very important. For example, a person who becomes unemployed will often be less busy and have more time for negative thinking. Spending some of this time doing volunteer work or other constructive activity would help in maintaining a positive frame of mind. Exercise has also been shown to be valuable in keeping depression at bay; some studies have shown its effects to be comparable to those of antidepressants.
4) Problem Solving
Often, people become depressed because they feel stuck in a given life situation. Many people, upon exploring the roots of their issues discover that they have become trapped in cycles of self defeating behaviour which has brought about their depression. After understanding this behaviour, one can try new approaches to moving forward, whether in relationships, work situations or even health issues. Moving forward in a meaningful way is an important step in helping one feel better.
5) Counselling and Medication
Counselling and psychotherapy have been shown to be very effective in dealing with depression. Often this can help in applying the above approaches. Also, having the right medication can be of value, as there can be a physiological aspect to depression.
While depression is very painful, when dealt with appropriately it can lead us to new discoveries about ourselves and to a more productive way of living.