Source: Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You, by Richard O’Connor
Depression is often dismissed as a condition of the weak and needy. The phrase “snap out of it,” is often used as by family members and friends in an attempt to help a depressed person. However, it not only invalidates the person’s experience, it also confirms their depressive outlook that no one understands. Depressed people “work harder” at living than others, and it is really “hard” to overcome depression despite the availability of medications.
Depression has many causes apart from life circumstances. It can be a result of childhood experiences and traumas, or depression can be a result of faulty thinking patterns and ways of handling strong emotions. Regardless of the reason for depression, it should be seen as a disease since there is often a clear genetic pattern and biochemical differences between brains of depressed and non-depressed patients. Depression, similar to heart disease or alcoholism, involves a life long pattern of thoughts, behaviors and feeling and recovering from depression involves changes at all levels.
Aaron Beck, a leading researcher of cognitive behavioral therapy for depression noted that depressed people have common defective patterns of thinking. The view of self, present and future are consistently different from others who are not depressed.
Self: A depressed person views herself or himself as inadequate, defective or deprived. This sense of inadequacy keeps a depressed person from hoping for a better outlook and keeps them from even trying to improve things.
Present reality: A depressed person views the present reality as if looking through dark glasses. Others may see success while the depressed person may see the failure. The glass is always seen as half empty….
Future expectations: The depressed person expects to fail, so they tend not to put much effort into improving their circumstance. The anticipation of a hopeless future is consistent with the negative evaluation of their abilities and the realities.
Aoron Beck also noted that depressed people tend to have faulty logic in judging situations. The following distortions are fairly common in many non-depressed people as well, however, depression is maintained when these thinking patterns are rigidly in place.
Overgeneralizing: If something bad happens, it is likely to always happen that way. “I failed this test, I will never pass”.
Selective Abstraction: Judging an experience by one detail rather than the whole series of events. A depressed person may fixate on the one question they couldn’t answer in an interview, rather than look at the ten other questions that were well answered.
Excessive responsibility: Feeling responsible for bad things and giving credit to others for good things. A parent blames her self for her child crying rather than recognizing many reasons why children cry and evaluating the situation.
Self-reference: A self-consciousness that everyone is negatively evaluating them. A child may feel that the mistake he or she made at school is being talked about by everyone and that he or she is the center of (negative) attention.
Catastrophizing: Expecting the worst in most situations. “I will be late and I will get fired”. This person may be disregarding that in the ten years he or she has worked and not been late or fired.
Dichotomous thinking: Tendency to see things as good or bad or “black” or “white”. There is an element of overgeneralization in this way of thinking. They may reject all people of a certain religion or groups of people.
Once a depressed person is able to identify these negative patterns of thinking, they can start to actively dispute the negative quality or rigidity of these beliefs. Martin Seligman, a psychologist who studied depression explained depression in terms of pessimism, optimism and hope. He defined hope as having “temporary and specific explanations for bad events”. Depressed people often lack this hope and believe that bad situations are permanent and they have little power over changing the course of life.
It is strongly recommended that a depressed person keep a mood journal and write down the situations that evoke strong negative feelings or mood changes and the thoughts and beliefs that are being activated. This will allow some level of objectivity and for the depressed person to begin to dispute the beliefs that have formed over years. A sense of efficacy and hope can be introduced by making small changes. Starting a routine of daily walking, connecting with friends, meditating for five minutes daily, listening to music, or scheduling a massage can all help reestablish a hopeful and meaningful outlook on life.
In addition, depression can be helped with psychotherapy, medication, self-help and family support. It is very important for a depressed person to ask for help. It is equally important for people in relationships with depressed people to recognize depression. Frequent mood changes, irritability, angry outbursts, isolating behaviors, lack of pleasure in anything, dramatic changes in eating and sleeping patterns may all be an indication of a serious problem.