Depression is on the rise in the US as indicated by recent research showing a significant rise in depression in the past 5 years. Professionals, family members, and friends seem to be missing the signs of depression in those who are affected, therefore people are not getting the help they need to treat it.
There are several causes of depression, any one of which can trigger the condition. Fortunately, there are also very effective treatments for depression. Of course, people who deal with chronic illness are more vulnerable to depression; but many people who deal with chronic illness are among the best at overcoming depression. In order for us to understand it and treat it effectively, we have to be aware of the major contributors to depression.
Physical Conditions are a major contributor to depression. Many conditions cause chemical imbalances that cause depressed mood. Hormones (regulation of growth, metabolism, movement) can become imbalanced. Genetics may play some role in depression. Brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) can become imbalanced. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA regulate mood. When the root cause of depression is physiological in nature, there are numerous medications which can be used in conjunction with psychotherapy (especially, Cognitive Behavior Therapy) to effectively treat it.
Traumatic experiences or ongoing Stress can cause depression. Of course the earlier the trauma or stress is experienced in life, the greater the chance of developing depression, because we generally do not learn coping skills and feel more helpless at younger ages. Psychotherapy can be highly effective in helping people develop a sense of control of their lives, which counteracts the results of trauma and stress.
Thoughts are believed to be the primary cause of most depression. We develop thoughts that focus on problems, perceived defects in ourselves or others, or on possible future events. We develop these thoughts through no fault of our own. We live in a culture that encourages us to think in negative terms, as if looking out for something negative around the corner is going to help prevent a disaster; or as if focusing on our own shortcomings will motivate us to do “better.” This is false thinking. Our culture teaches us to think that there is always something that needs to be “fixed.” Many politicians, teachers, ministers, parents, or anyone in a position of authority tend to look for what needs to be corrected in others or in the world. They then manipulate others to comply with their wishes through fear of something bad happening if they don’t. This process is not necessarily done maliciously. It is just a very pervasive condition in our culture. Fortunately, there are leaders who have learned to motivate through encouragement, rewards, and cooperation. We can all counteract negative thinking in ourselves and in our culture by looking more realistically at ourselves and shifting to a position of looking for ways to encourage ourselves and others, rather than criticize. Shifting thoughts to a more realistic, less negative focus (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) has been shown to actually alter brain chemistry and enhance the flow of the neurotransmitters that regulate moods.
Research also shows that people who have a strong spiritual faith have significantly less depression. This is due to the fact that people of faith believe that a higher power can assist them, and they tend to believe that the higher power, not themselves can control the situations in their lives of which they have little or no control. Threfore, they relax more.
At least 8 hours of sleep each night increases the efficiency of the neurotransmitters that control mood. Exercise, along with healthy eating habits also enhances the functioning of hormones that help regulate mood.
Supportive, non-judgmental relationships with people who truly listen have been shown to significantly lift people’s mood. Seek these relationships, and be that relationship for others.
If you are sad or depressed most of the time, seek help from a competent professional, or at least reach out to a supportive friend or family member. Also, encourage anyone you know who might be suffering, to open up to you. There is help for depression; and a happier, more fufilling life for everyone.
CHristopher Knippers, Ph.D. November 23, 2016.