What is Depression?
There are various types of depression that psychologists see in daily clinical practice. First, there is Major Depression. Some of the symptoms of Major Depression include:
- Persistent sadness and / or difficulty enjoying activities
- Lack of energy / fatigue
- Problems with sleep (too much or too little)
- Problems with appetite (eating too much or too little)
- Problems with concentration and / or memory
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal thinking
- Low sexual interest
With Major Depression, these symptoms cause the person to struggle with their everyday functioning, such that they have difficulty working, studying or interacting socially. It also significantly decreases their quality of life.
Major depression is often a recurring a problem – it’s important to treat depression sooner than later.
However, not everyone who sees a psychologist for depression meets criteria for Major Depression. Occasionally, someone might have symptoms of depression for a period of years, but not meet actual criteria for depression. Many of these people have what psychologists call Dysthymia. Dysthymia is similar to Major Depression, but with milder and fewer symptoms, and lasts longer (at least 2 years). Having Dysthymia increases the person’s chances of eventually developing Major Depression – in other words, it is a risk factor.
Aside from Major Depression and Dysthymia, psychologists also often work with people who do not have a “diagnosable” issue, but they have some symptoms of depression that interfere with their quality of life. These cases are known as subsyndromal depression, which can also be a risk factor for eventually developing Major Depression.
Hence, there are different faces of depression, with some being more severe than others.
Most people believe they have to wait until they are incapacitated before seeking help – the reality is that it’s important to seek treatment sooner than later, in order to avoid a situation where the symptoms worsen.
Of course, regardless of the type of depression one has, the most important question is – what can they do to treat this depression?
CBT for Depression
Psychologists have been testing and refining, for many decades, a treatment for depression called Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT has been found to be a very effective treatment for depression – as effective as medication.
The reason for CBT’s effectiveness is the fact that this therapy allows the psychologist to target many of the factors known to impact people’s mood, such as:
- When people are depressed, their behaviour changes and they start to do things that make being depressed more likely. For example, they stop doing things that they usually enjoy, and they stop doing things they are good at. There may be other changes in behaviour as well, including those that affect social / interpersonal and romantic relationships. Such behaviour changes reduce opportunities to enjoy life and receive pleasure. Indeed, people do not experience happiness for no reason – we must do things to create happiness. CBT addresses this issue in a way that is collaborative with the client.
- One of the hallmark symptoms of depression is a change in cognition – thoughts, memories, beliefs, interpretations, attitudes – all become more negative during depression. CBT can help make changes to cognition that help alleviate the symptoms.
- One of the most important things a psychologist does is assess each client and develop a conceptualization of how exactly this person came to be depressed and develop a treatment plan that is specific to the conceptualization. Psychologists can use cognitive-behavioural theory to understand and plan for how to use cognitive-behavioural therapy. For example, two people can have identical symptoms of depression and have very similar thoughts, but the root causes can be very different. Having a psychologist get at the root cause (ex: core beliefs developed in early relationships) is very important.
Coping with depression can be a tremendous battle and CBT can help many people defeat this problem for good.
Source photo : Hamed Masoumi
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