Depression, while increasingly commonly prevalent, is a serious mood disorder requiring timely intervention as untreated depression can have serious consequences.
Depression can present in different ways, but some of the most common symptoms include a persistent low mood, social isolation, difficulty concentrating, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, insomnia or hypersomnia, feelings of worthlessness, helplessness or hopelessness, and can even lead to suicidal ideation.
Depression symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe, and can last for weeks, months, or even years. These feelings can interfere with a person's daily life, making it difficult to work, study, or maintain relationships. While studies consistently show that depression is most associated with the number of stressors experienced in life, and the effect is cumulative - the more stresses that accrue over time, the greater the likelihood of getting depressed - the causes of depression are complex and multifactorial, caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Some people may be genetically predisposed to depression, meaning that they have a higher risk of developing the disorder if an immediate family member also has it, but it is important to clarify that predisposition does not mean it is a given that they necessarily will. Environmental factors such as stressful life events, loss, trauma, prolonged illness can also trigger depression, as can psychological factors such as low self-esteem and negative thinking patterns.
One of the key symptoms of depression is ‘anhedonia’, which involves a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable. This can make it difficult for individuals to find enjoyment in life and can contribute to feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
Another factor that can contribute to the development and persistence of depression is ‘rumination’. This involves the act of dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings, which can lead to a cycle of negative thinking and worsen symptoms of depression.
‘Cognitive distortions’ are also common in individuals with depression. These are patterns of negative thinking that can contribute to the development and persistence of depression. Examples of cognitive distortions include black-and-white thinking, overgeneralization, and catastrophizing.
‘Learned helplessness’ is another factor that can contribute to the development and persistence of depression. This is a belief that one has no control over one's life circumstances, which can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair.
Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine play a crucial role in regulating mood. An imbalance of neurotransmitters can contribute to the development of depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant medication that works by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain.
Depression is commonly comorbid with other disorders such as anxiety, behavioural addictions, and insomnia. Comorbidity refers to the presence of two or more mental health disorders at the same time. Treating comorbid conditions requires comprehensive care that addresses all of the mental health needs. Anxiety and depression in particular have a high comorbidity as it has been found that sustained anxiety can often lead to depression. Both involve brooding over experience—in depression, things that happened in the past; in anxiety, things that might happen in the future. More than half of all people with major depression also suffer from persistent anxiety. The two conditions share many symptoms, including insomnia, difficulty concentrating, negative thinking, and loss of appetite. Many treatments that relieve depression also relieve anxiety.
Depression counselling or psychotherapy is a form of treatment for individuals who are experiencing symptoms of depression. It involves working with a mental health professional to explore and understand the underlying causes of depression, as well as to develop coping strategies during a depressive episode. It is an established fact that while medication can alleviate depression symptoms which can count for a lot, as such it cannot prevent depression nor can it offer a cure and that’s why psychotherapy is key. Depression arises from various factors, such as maladaptive coping mechanisms, negative thought processes, and reactions to stressful experiences. Psychotherapy aims to tackle the underlying causes of depression by focusing on how people process their emotions and thoughts. Cognitive restructuring is a technique used to help individuals identify and change negative or irrational thought patterns leading to psychological distress that may be fuelling the depression. Therapy helps individuals identify the triggers or contributing factors to their depression, enabling them to regain a sense of control over their lives and regain sources of pleasure. Effective coping mechanisms are developed through therapy, which is critical in not just relieving current episodes of depression but also preventing future ones.