What is depression?
Everyone feels 'low,' 'down in the dumps,' 'blue,' or like they 'can't be bothered' from time to time. Depression is essentially a more extreme form of this. For example, depression tends to describe when these feelings last for most of the day, over an extended period of time. When depressed, people also find that their motivation is low, their appetite is reduced, their sleeping patterns are disrupted and their concentration and memory are poor. Other typical experiences include feeling irritable, weepy and lonely.
People who are low or depressed normally have a critical way of thinking about:
- I'm boring
- I'm Ugly
- I'm a failure
- No-one likes me
- Everyone is better than me
- Things will never get better
- What's the point?
People's behaviour patterns also typically change if they low or depressed. For example, they tend to spend a lot of their time indoors (often in bed) and don't socialise or do as much as they used to.
What causes depression?
We can feel depressed for a variety of reasons. However often depression can follow difficult experiences (such as a bereavement, being bullied or the end of a relationship). It is normal to feel low during such times and often these feelings pass naturally with time, but unfortunately sometimes they stick around for longer and become problematic. On the other hand, sometimes depression can seem like it comes 'out of the blue' for no particular reason at all.
One theory suggests that the way we interpret, or think about things, can lead us to feel depressed. This is because how we think affects our emotions. For example, if you walked past a friend in the town centre and they ignored you, it would be easy to think this was because you've upset them, or that they dislike you. Of course having such thoughts would naturally cause you to feel upset and bring you down. On the other hand, if you instead thought; "perhaps they were daydreaming and didn't notice me," you would likely feel better about yourself. When we are depressed, we commonly think about situations in an overly negative manner (as described above) and this has a negative impact on our mood.
Another popular theory is that depression can occur because we stop doing many of the things we used to enjoy (such as socialising with friends and participating in our hobbies). This often means we have little to look forward to which can make our lives seem boring and meaningless. Instead when we are depressed we tend to spend most of our time alone or sitting in front of the TV and this can become very unrewarding and unsatisfying.
It has also been shown that depression can have familial ties. For example, if someone in your immediate family has experienced depression, there is an increased chance that you will develop similar feelings. It is therefore thought that our genetic make up plays a role.
In reality it is likely that a combination of all these factors play a role in people becoming depressed or low. However, in some ways it is less important to know what causes depression and more important to know what stops us moving past it.
What keeps our depression going?
When people are depressed, they often have a negative way of looking at themselves, the world and their futures. Some believe that people's tendency to think in this negative fashion is one of the important factors in ensuring their depression continues. It clouds the way they interpret situations and helps ensure they continue to have a negative outlook on life.
Furthermore when people feel depressed or low, they often stop being as active as normal, and spend less time socialising or engaging in their hobbies. This means that they have less pleasure in their lives and little to look forward to on a day to day basis, which too can keep them feeling low. Furthermore, when they are inactive, it normally leads to them feeling even more lethargic, which makes it even more difficult to escape this trap and a vicious cycle occurs.
Similarly, people who are depressed or low, often spend a lot of time lying in bed or sitting around watching TV. Often this leads to people feeling as though they have wasted their day and have achieved very little which makes them feel even worse. It also leaves them with plenty of time to beat themselves up or worry about their problems, which of course also makes them feel worse.
When looking more closely at what stops us overcoming our depression, it becomes clear that our behaviour, thoughts, feelings and physical sensations all interact and combine to keep our depression going.
How can I overcome my depression?
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that we can use to overcome depression and low moods. These include:
- Learning how to challenge your unhelpful thoughts and see things in a more realistic light.
- Learning strategies that can help you become more active and make good use of your time.
- Improving your problem solving skills.
- Learning ways to help you notice your qualities and achievements.