It is normal to feel upset when things go wrong, and for a person to feel very down for a few days after suffering a series of setbacks. But most people bounce back once they have had time to think about it and get things into perspective. Depression is far more serious than just feeling down in the dumps for a while.
The most common symptoms of depression are feeling tired, not caring, having no energy, not sleeping normally, feeling sad a lot, being unable to concentrate, losing interest in life, and not having a normal appetite. Some people get so down they think about ending their lives.
There are a number of causes of depression. It can occur in people who suffer from a mental illness, it can be caused by a chemical imbalance, or it can be hereditary. However, for the majority of people who develop it depression is often part of a reaction to unpleasant events.
Such circumstances can include losing a job, the breakup of a relationship, being seriously ill or injured, being treated badly, experiencing a trauma, the death of someone close, a big financial loss, and many other triggers. Many people can go through difficult times like these without developing depression. This is called resilience.
Some depression that appears to run in families is often not hereditary, but our ways of coping with troubling events are often learned from our family members, and if these are faulty they can cause us to develop depression. Many of the events that can trigger depression are unforeseeable and unavoidable, and most people experience one or more of these in a lifetime.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and to avoid succumbing to depression we need to learn how to develop resilience. This is where a psychologist can help. Psychologists usually help people to learn ways of coping through a process called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Research shows that people who have had depression once are very likely to get it again the next time something in their lives goes wrong. This is much less likely for people who have learned CBT.
People who are already experiencing symptoms of depression may also need to seek the assistance of their GP and perhaps be prescribed an antidepressant medication. This usually helps people feel better and more able to manage the tasks involved in CBT. For reactive depression, antidepressant medication is only a short term measure. It does not cure depression, but simply helps relieve the distress of the symptoms.
Certain factors in the makeup of people can leave them more vulnerable to depression. Sensitive people are more likely to suffer from depression, and so are people who are realists. (Unrealistic optimism is actually a protective factor against depression.) Psychologists can assist here too with an analysis of each individual’s personality type.
There is no right or wrong personality. However, each person needs a good understanding of themselves to know how to best place themselves in the world around them. It is important not to be a ‘square peg in a round hole.’ A psychologist can teach people how to best utilise the strengths of their personality, and how to manage their vulnerabilities.
Depression can also occur in someone who had a bad experience early in life. Often these traumas were never properly processed, and the distress is simply pushed down. However, traumatic stress never goes away on its own, but simply lies dormant waiting for an opportunity to show up—often as depression. A psychologist can help with relieving this long-term distress.
If you know someone who you think might be suffering from depression and want to help there are a number of do’s and don’ts. It is tempting to tell the person to just pull themselves together and get over it. This rarely helps. Let them know you are available to listen if they want to talk. Then listen, and try to offer support rather than advice.
However, do encourage them to seek professional help. Some people have the idea that only people who are crazy see a psychologist, or that going to one is a sign of weakness. It is actually a sign of good sense and sanity. Depression is simply a health problem, and like many other health problems often requires the assistance of a professional.
The key to preventing