According to the 5th edition of the Diagnostic Manual (DSM-5), depression falls under depressive disorders which are also described as mood disorders (Jessica, 2022). Mood disorders are described as severe and prolonged mood states which disrupt a person’s daily functioning. (The Free Dictionary) These moods may be sad or elevated from time to time. Depression can also be referred to as major depressive disorder or clinical depression. Those who suffer from depression feel persistent sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, and little to no motivation. There may also be physical symptoms brought about by emotional distress like digestive discomfort and chronic pain.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression will be one of the leading causes of debilitating illness in the world by the year 2030. Depression is the only mental illness on that list (Mackenzie, 2006). This means it will become very common for a lot of people to be diagnosed with depression in the short term, and in the future. With a higher number of diagnoses, there is an increased need to understand what causes depression and how to get help. This post seeks to do just that. It must also be said that being depressed is not something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Once you understand what causes this serious and severe disease and how to get help, you will realize there is a lot of hope and solutions for you.
What are the Causes of Depression?
Depression is a complex disease which affects the mind, mood and behavior. It is caused by a collection of factors or variables. These factors arise from both nature and nurture. This means that they can occur naturally, but some are also influenced by our human interactions and upbringing. There are several variables at play which result in a person getting depression. In this post, we will divide them into three categories:
- Biological Causes.
These are causes resulting from your genes (what is passed down from your parents genetically), neurotransmitters (the chemicals in your brain which control its functions), and brain structure. We will break them down later in this post.
- Cognitive Causes
Cognition refers to how you think and the thought patterns that govern your behaviour. Depression is often linked to faulty thinking and false cognitions.
- Behavioral Causes
These causes refer to how you behave, and cover a range of social and emotional phenomena like grief, trauma, childhood events and learned helplessness.
Depression can be passed down through your genes (Mental Health UK) If you have a family member who has had depression, you are more likely to be depressed, compared to someone who has no family members or a family history of depression.
- Neurotransmitter/Brain Chemical Imbalances
It is important to note the role of neurotransmitters in causing depression is very complex. It is not just a small case of one chemical being present too little or too much in the brain. Scientists admit it is a much more complex interaction between hormones, nerve cells, the brain, and its functions. However, we know the neurotransmitters which play a role in our mood regulation, namely serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, fluctuate. This may result in a change not just in your moods, but also in your perceptions and experiences of life. (New Health Advisor, “What causes depression?”)
Schemas are how the brain structures information. This information helps us to organize, understand, and navigate the world around us. (Nickerson, 2021) Schemas operate on the deepest level of awareness. There are different types of schemas and each type stores different categories of information. For example, the event-schema contains behavioral and event sequences. This is where you store the information about your daily activities, and it provides the basis for setting objectives and making plans. The self-schema contains knowledge about yourself by interacting with the world and other human beings. This knowledge influences your behavior towards others and their motivations. According to psychologists, schemas play a big role in our self-perception and the development of depression (“Schema Theory in Depression” 115-143). When we have maladaptive schemas, we are vulnerable to depression. There is a causal role under certain conditions between faulty self-schemas and depression.
- Distorted cognitions
Cognitive distortions, simply put, are thinking errors. They may also be called cognitive biases or distortions. Distorted cognitions are irrational patterns of thinking which can cause depression or be caused by depression (Burton, 2016). When you are depressed, you feel sad and your thinking can sometimes get mixed up. This thinking then increases your feelings of depression. There are categories of distorted thinking which are often explored and challenged in therapy. Some of these include over-generalization, magnification and minimization, selective abstraction, and catastrophic thinking. These categories of distorted thinking develop within our minds and result in feelings of depression. However, they can be challenged and changed, resulting in a reduction of feelings of depression.
1. Trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
A traumatic event is defined as anything which is emotionally disturbing or life-threatening, and has lasting adverse effects on an individual’s functioning, mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Some traumatic events may include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; sudden and unexplained separation from a loved one; war; poverty; or violence. (Trauma-Informed Care). Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are negative childhood experiences (Pearce et al. 1-9). Examples of ACEs are childhood neglect, parental death or loss, poverty, severe beatings, and bullying. ACEs and trauma are risk factors for depression. This means they make you vulnerable for getting depressed (Tull, 2020). If you have experienced traumatic events either in your childhood or adulthood, this makes you more likely to develop depression, due to the emotional load created by experiencing and coping with the traumatic events.
How to Get Help for Depression
It is important to acknowledge we live in a broken world, we are human and we are bound to respond to this brokenness in a way which may result in an illness like depression. It is not something to be ashamed of, it is something you can get help for. The following are ways to get help for depression:
- Watch your life and be honest with yourself
Have you been feeling weary, sad and overwhelmed lately? Do the things that used to bring you joy suddenly feel bland and uninteresting? To get help for depression you must be honest about how you’re feeling. You should not feel guilty for being more tired than usual, or not being interested in what you used to be interested in. These are pointers that you may be depressed.
- Speak to a friend or trusted person
Share your concerns with someone you trust. This may be a spouse, housemate, family member, or colleague. They may have already noticed changes in your mood or behavior. Talking to them might reassure you or help you get the courage you need to speak to a mental health professional. Also, a close friend can help you identify, challenge, and break the vicious cycle of distorted thinking. (Burton, 2016)
- Reach out to a mental health professional
Depression is a mental illness which requires professional help. There are numerous professionals who can help. A counselor helps with behavioral issues. Clinical psychologists can diagnose mental illnesses. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication which will ease the symptoms of depression. It is difficult to know where to begin to look for help, however there are websites and private practitioners who have their information on the internet. Also, feel free to inquire at your local hospital or healthcare center. Therapy can be done online or in person. You have the power to choose what works for you.
- Talk to a counselor at church or school
Counselors are often more accessible (and affordable, let’s be honest – therapy is expensive), than professionals in private practice and government hospitals. Speak to a counselor near you, at your school or church, and tell them about how you’ve been feeling. Write down your symptoms in detail and present this list to them. This is helpful if you feel unsure, anxious or have brain fog.
This is an important step in getting help. Even though depression is a mental illness, we still need God’s strength to face the difficulties of this life. Pray for comfort, wisdom, and strength. Ask God to lead you to a good therapist. Pray for help with the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and demotivation. Pray for healing.
Remember, do not be ashamed of being depressed. This is a normal response to a broken world. Humans are powerful but fragile. We are exposed to so much, and this world is difficult. But have courage. There is hope and help for you! You are not alone and your life is precious. It is worth living, despite how difficult it may be right now. All the best in your healing!
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