By Michael Schauer*
Depression is a common emotion. At some stage almost everyone is down in the dump about a break-up of a close relationship, a sudden loss of a close person or frustration in a job.
Sadness, lack of enjoyment, sense of hopelessness, loss of confidence, feelings of guilt and failure and low activity levels characterise depressed feelings. Fortunately they are usually short-lived, but often they return.
In a clinical sense we speak of depression, when the unhappiness is long-lasting, intense and interfering with life. It is often accompanied by symptoms like anxiety, poor sleep and loss of appetite. Some severely depressed people even contemplate suicide at times stays in hospital may be advisable.
There are three major types of depressive illness. “Endogenous Depression” may develop for no apparent reason and can be severe.
“Manic depression” has alternating periods of endogenous depression with periods of extreme happiness overactivity and sometimes delusions or false beliefs of grandeur.
“Reactive depression” is trigged off by stressful situations.
What causes depression?
Many theories exist about how depression develops but the real cause is not fully understood.
Medically, depression has been explained in terms of biochemical imbalance and heredity factors. For example depression seems to occur in certain families.
Psychoanalysts assume that it is caused by a loss of parental affection during childhood. Hostile feelings against others are often repressed and turned instead into self-blaming. Psychologists explain the depression as a combination or interaction of personal (internal) or external factors. We examine carefully the skills and attitudes which a person has learned to cope with adverse situations in life.
How can professionals help?
Depending on the sort of depression and the individual circumstances medication, counselling or both can be appropriate. While anti depressive medication is used by doctors in some cases to treat depression, many psychologists nowadays use “cognitive and behavioural” counselling techniques. This involves trying to change the clients distorted thinking and irrational beliefs. We challenge these beliefs by asking them for example, “do you really believe that you always have to be successful, competent and perfect?”
For the individual person it may be helpful to learn to cope better with stress through relaxation to learn to say “no” without fear and to develop supportive friendships. Sometimes the depressive environment of the client needs to be changed and the partner or family may need counselling.
How can you help yourself and prevent depression?
1. For a start force yourself to do something even if you think it is only vaguely interesting. Otherwise you will stay in the old vicious circle of self-isolation and self-pity: the lower you feel the less you do!
2. Challenge automatic negative thoughts “have I ever felt good before?”
3. Set realistic and limited goals which you can achieve.
4. Increase daily enjoyments and worthwhile achievements. Reward yourself with a pat on the back.
5. Remember, also “everybody has bad days”.
In the last few years many books, web pages and DVDs have been published in regards to “the power of positive thinking”, including using affirmation and goal visualisation. Some of this self-help material, used at the right moment can offer support and encouragement, but it can never replace a good relationship, friendship or professional help.
Two major factors for “success in life” are believed to be healthy self-esteem and positive assertiveness.
How can you achieve liking and accepting yourself and speaking up for yourself when you want to
· Take full responsibility for your life, stop being a victim and blaming others
· Focus on the present moment instead of the past or future.
· Understand mistakes and failures as valuable lessons in life.
· Stop being critical of yourself as well as others, avoid comparing yourself with others. Everybody is unique!
· Enjoy compliments and acknowledgements. Praise others.
· Speak up for your own needs, opinions, feelings and respect those of others.
· Generate positive thoughts and feelings accepting yourself: I am O.K the way I am
· Last but not least, laugh at yourself, do not take yourself so seriously!
*Michael Schauer is a psychologist in private practice and a member of the North Queensland branch of the Australian Psychological Society.