Many people who have been depressed tell me that the depression makes them:
- Feel exhausted in the morning
- Have difficulty sleeping or sleep too much
- Dream more often and have restless sleep
- See things in all or nothing, black and white terms
- Lose enjoyment in things they used to enjoy
- Feel emotional or angry about insignificant things (flat but emotional inside)
Whilst you may find it easy to recognise these symptoms, it may be more difficult to understand what is happening to you and why it is happening. Families and friends of people who have been depressed also struggle to understand the way depression affects their loved ones. This is because the general understanding of depression is often clouded by various myths and inaccuracies. What do you believe depression is? A quick straw poll of people in the street would probably throw up various common explanations:
- it’s a disease
- it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain
- it’s inherited
- it’s anger turned on yourself
- it’s from a bad childhood
These misunderstandings can lead to inappropriate treatment. So what is current thinking telling us about depression?
We know that depression is not a genetic disease. It is not something you are born with. It is also not caused by life events. For example, many people experience trauma or difficult childhoods and do not become depressed. Over 30 years of research has demonstrated that most depression is learned through the way you interact with your environment. Whilst the experience of certain life events do not cause depression, your response to those events – how you think and cope – does determine the likelihood of becoming depressed.
So what is depression?
In biological terms, depression is a normal part of how your brain works. It is a brain pattern programmed in by evolution to function as a protection mechanism and it automatically kicks in when you are very highly stressed. Many people with depression describe feeling flat, but this is really only on the outside. We know that when you have depression, you are stressed out on the inside – there are high levels of the stress hormone cortisol circulating in your system. So depression works like a safety switch that trips when you are overloaded. A particular brain pattern is triggered and your brain works in a different way. When you are feeling depressed you automatically focus on the negative aspects of a situation and your emotional thinking assumes the worst outcome, forcing you to withdraw. In biological terms, this withdrawal serves a purpose – it conserves your energy and keeps you safe. This way of functioning isn’t unusual – in a similar way, your pain system automatically alerts you to problems and triggers specific behaviour. Thinking about depression in this way can help you to see how and why it functions – it is how your brain and body responds to stress and in that sense it is not your fault! However, maintaining the depressive brain state creates problems and you can learn to take control and responsibility for changing it.
You can read more about this in Part 3 of this blog. If you are suffering with depression, please consider getting professional help.
If you are in the UK and need to talk to somebody as soon as possible:
Samaritans UK – 08457 90 90 90
Samaritans ROI – 1850 60 90 90
Your doctor can help refer you to a therapist or you can seek help directly. I specialize in working to help people overcome depression and anxiety and I’m based in #York. If you need some help I can be reached via my website at: www.mindmakeoveruk.com/contact.html