We’ve all been through bouts of depression at some point in our lives. Sometimes, there’s no reason for it at all, we just lose it and get bogged down and it persists for sometime before ‘normalcy’ returns. For some, this cycle is frequent and for others it seems a lot less recurring.
Why is it? What is depression and why is it that some people seem more prone to the ill effects of depression? How can one tackle it, given the complexity and the frequency of its occurrence has increased in the age of social media.
Depression causes frequent feelings of sadness, anxious, helpless, worthless, restlessness, in general, puts the person in a mood of constant self-doubting. The popular notion that it’s a mental disorder might sound extreme but it quite common, especially among individuals who move among active social circles.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), symptoms of depression include:
Latest studies indicate that at least 15.7 million adults in the U.S. suffer at least one major episode of depression in a year. The APA says that depression affect at least one in 15 adults and one in six people will suffer from depression at some point in their life. Although one cannot say when it will strike, “but on average, first appears during the late teens to mid-20s.”
This is important an stat that they revealed: women are more likely to to be affected by depression than men. It goes on to say that one in every three women will be affected depression at least once in their lifetime.
Now, to the part of why does it happen.
To answer that we need to understand how our mind works. We function on the basis of pleasure/pain principle, that is to say, the reinforcements we receive after an action, decide our reaction. If someone treats us well, we do that to them. If someone helps us, we try to be nice to them and in return, try to repay the goodness.
Likewise, if someone is rude to us, we reciprocate that in equal measure. So our reactions are a function of what inputs we receive, or more importantly how we perceive these inputs. And this, in any social context, is considered normal behavior. And when these inputs stop arriving, it drives us mad. Any feedback (positive or negative) is essential to our thought process and survival.
Mind you, we are talking about depression that is induced by external and personality factors. There is another kind, called psychotic depression that involves medical intervention, about which we’ll discuss in detail in another article.
Now, let’s go through the different causes of depression with this in mind.
What causes depression?
Abuse of position, poverty, neglect, violence are some of the factors that have been recorded to have increase the likelihood of depression. When we do not receive necessary positive reinforcements, in the form of money, love (arguably the most important one), our behaviors tend deviate from the set pattern of ‘accepted’ ways of the society. It might manifest in different ways and one such is depression. Others make sense of us by our actions (including our verbal mode of communication) and we in turn make sense of ourselves through that.
And our increasing usage of social networking websites is one of the leading reasons for depression among young adolescents and children. The engagement provides an opportunity to seek reinforcements.
When a positive reinforcement arrives, in the form of a ‘like’ or a compliment or a ‘share’, it strengthens our beliefs and boost the self-esteem. And when no reinforcements or negative reinforcements arrive, they lead to a situation leading to depression.
Here’s an article on selfie addiction and that discusses the psychology behind the phenomenon. The need for external validation is one of the risk factors of depression.
Why are some people better at handling problems? Give the same problem to two people and you’ll find two different approaches to solve it. Our mental makeup — out attitudes, levels of cognitive development — decide how we approach or react.
Our self-esteem, a subjective measure of how we see ourselves, is developed through an image of ourselves based our experiences with different people and activities. It reflects in our thought process, our confidence and motivation levels. People with low self-esteem, generally, exhibit more pessimism and are prone to be easily overwhelmed by stress. Here’s a guide on understanding what is self-esteem and its effect on our social life and depression.
A World Health Organization report offers suggestions on how to counter the ill-effects of low self-esteem. It says,“…include school-based programs targeting cognitive, problem-solving and social skills of children and adolescents as well as exercise programs for the elderly. Interventions for parents of children with conduct problems aimed at improving parental psychosocial well-being by information provision and by training in behavioral childrearing strategies may reduce parental depressive symptoms, with improvements in children’s outcomes.” Depression that has its source in personality issues can be addressed, with the help of parent’s intervention.
These two represent the two major risk factors in mild-medium levels of depression. Now, to the question: is depression treatable? Yes, it is. APA says, 80% to 90% of people “eventually respond well to treatment.”
Treatment for depression
Mild-to-severe depression induced by environmental, personality factors is generally treated by psychotherapy. There might also be cases where there is need for a medical intervention in the form of anti-depressants. But most of cases involving depression among young adults is treated using non-intrusive methods.
Psychotherapy or talk therapy
Psychotherapy is a method of trying to get to the root cause of the problem by means of talking. Under an expert practitioner, this method can successfully bring out the deep, hidden cause of the problem, that’s causing depression. Identifying the cause is the first step of the treatment. In the process, more information is sought and the evidences are pieced together and a suitable therapy programme is advised to the person.
Even parents can employ this technique to understand their child’s psyche. The key remains in how dispassionately they can strike a conversation with their kids, without judging them. The first step is laying the platform, where there is mutual trust and respect, a point from where both — parents and children — can voice their views without the slightest of inhibitions and fear of judgment. The ability of a parent to engage his/her child in a manner that doesn’t offend him/her and be assertive is crucial. The art of making the child comfortable sharing even the most traumatic of experiences will, in many ways, go a long way in treating the problem.
But consulting a specialist is advisable. It involves skills that only psychologists can effectively employ, and a third-person’s perspective always helps and yields better results.
Since medication involves altering the chemical reactions inside the body, it’s given only after proper understanding of the problem and a confirmation that such a method is the only way forward to get results. APA says, “these medications are not sedatives, ‘uppers’ or tranquilizers. They are not habit-forming. Generally antidepressant medications have no stimulating effect on people not experiencing depression.” Medicines, in essence, try to change certain chemical reactions in our brain, giving us a sense of relief.
Depression among young adults and children is common and there’s no need for worry or get more depressed about it. It is treatable but if left unattended, can lead to psychological scars and later manifest as anti-social behaviors. Understanding the cause of depression is the biggest problem and should preferably done under the supervision of a specialist.