What is Depression?

Clinical depression is an illness, a medical condition. It significantly affects the way someone feels, causing a persistent lowering of mood. Depression is often accompanied by a range of other physical and psychological symptoms that can interfere with the way a person is able to function in their everyday life. The symptoms of depression generally react positively to treatment.

What are the symptoms?

Depression has a variety of symptoms and will affect everyone in different ways. Symptoms include: feeling extremely sad or tearful; disturbances to normal sleep patterns; loss of interest and motivation; feeling worthless or guilty; loss of pleasure in activities; anxiety; changes in appetite or weight; loss of sexual interest; physical aches and pains; impaired thinking or concentration.

What causes Depression?

There are a number of possible causes of depression.
what-is-depression

  • Depression can be a reaction to a distressing situation like loss or stress (reactive depression). Some women experience depression following the birth of a child (post-natal depression).
  • Depression can be part of an illness like bipolar disorder in which the person experiences extreme moods without any reason –very high and very-excited or very low and depressed.
  • Depression can be unrelated to any outside cause, but associated with a chemical imbalance in the brain (endogenous depression). Sometimes the person may be affected so much that he or she experiences the symptoms of psychosis and is unable to distinguish what is real.
  • Children and teenagers can also become depressed. This can show itself in different ways to depression in adults, and they are best helped by a doctor who is a specialist in this area.

How many people develop depression?

Every year, around 6% of all adult Australians are affected by a depressive illness.

Psychological Treatment for Depression

Treatment can do much to reduce and even eliminate the symptoms of depression. Treatment may include a combination of medication, individual therapy and community support.

Psychological treatments (also known as talking therapies) help people with depression to change negative patterns of thinking and improve their coping skills so they are better equipped to deal with life’s stresses and conflicts. Psychological therapies may not only help a person to recover, but can also help to prevent the depression from reoccurring.

At LIFE, we incorporate different types of psychological treatments shown to be effective in the treatment of depression:

CBT is a structured psychological treatment which recognises that a person’s way of thinking (cognition) and acting (behaviour) affects the way they feel. CBT is one of the most effective treatments for depression, and has been found to be useful for a wide range of people, including children, adolescents, adults and older people.

In CBT, a person works with a professional (therapist) to identify the patterns of thought and behaviour that are either making them more likely to become depressed, or stopping them from improving once they become depressed.

CBT has an emphasis on changing thoughts and behaviour by teaching people to think rationally about common difficulties, helping them to shift their negative or unhelpful thought patterns and reactions to a more realistic, positive and problem-solving approach.

CBT is also well-suited to being delivered electronically (often called e-therapies).

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

IPT is a structured psychological therapy that focuses on problems in personal relationships and the skills required to deal with these problems. IPT is based on the idea that relationship problems can have a significant impact on a person experiencing depression, and can even contribute to the cause.

IPT is thought to work by helping people to recognise patterns in their relationships that make them more vulnerable to depression. Identifying these patterns means they can focus on improving relationships, coping with grief and finding new ways to get along with others.

Behaviour therapy is a major component of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), but behaviour therapy focuses exclusively on increasing a person’s level of activity and pleasure in their life. Unlike CBT, it does not focus on changing the person’s beliefs and attitudes. Instead it focuses on encouraging people to undertake activities that are rewarding, pleasant or give a sense of satisfaction, in an effort to reverse the patterns of avoidance, withdrawal and inactivity that make depression worse.

Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

MBCT is generally delivered in groups and involves learning a type of meditation called ‘mindfulness meditation’. This meditation teaches people to focus on the very present moment, just noticing whatever they are experiencing, be it pleasant or unpleasant, without trying to change it. At first, this approach is used to focus on physical sensations (like breathing), but later it is used to focus on feelings and thoughts.

MBCT helps people to stop their mind wandering off into thoughts about the future or the past, or trying to avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings. This is thought to be helpful in preventing depression from returning because it allows people to notice feelings of sadness and negative thinking patterns early on, before they have become fixed. It therefore helps the person to deal with these early warning signs better.

To find out about other psychological treatment approaches and the level of evidence behind them, you may download the BeyondBlue publication: A guide to what works for depression.

Seeking professional assistance

If you believe that your depression is a problem, you can seek help from a psychologist at LIFE. Our psychologists are all trained to assess depression and to help the person to better understand and manage it. The LIFE psychologist can also help a person to manage other problems that may be associated with depression, such as anxiety, stress or personal relationships.

To talk to a psychologist, speak to your GP about a referral or phone us on 1300 084 200.

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