Depression is a Treatable Illness
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 17 million adult Americans suffer from depression during any 1-year period. Depression is an illness that carries with it a high cost in terms of relationship problems, family suffering and lost work productivity. Yet, depression is treatable.
Everyone feels down from time to time, and often these feelings can be attributed to a situational or environmental cause. A rift with a friend, or the loss of a job, can cause feelings of self-doubt that will leave one feeling sad for a time. But when feelings such as helplessness, sadness, or hopelessness last longer than a month, there may be more going on.
In the case of job loss, it is normal to feel depressed and worried about the prospect of finding new work and to ponder what led to being let go, or fired. But if the thoughts turn to rumination about failure, and hopelessness about finding another job, then it may be time to seek treatment.
Depression wrecks motivation through its characteristic anhedonia—Latin for inability to feel pleasure. Often this is a gradual process, creeping up over time in such a way that even the depressed person doesn’t see it coming. One day, it is there. Unshakable, unspeakable. Shame and self-doubt take hold as feelings of worthlessness erode a once-affable person. Family and friends try to help but often give up after their attempts are met with an attitude of hopelessness.
How Psychotherapy Can Help
In my work with clients who come in for psychotherapy because of depression or anxiety, I take a careful history to see if medical problems may be causing any or all of the symptoms. Biological factors can interact with mood, increasing the severity of depression. Medical disorders such as low thyroid can mimic depression and cause some of the same symptoms such as low energy, sleep disturbance, and difficulty with focus and concentration. Once medical causes are ruled out, we reconstruct the timeline of when they starting feeling depressed or anxious. Sometimes these feelings are rooted in childhood experiences and memories, but not always. We start where the clients are, giving them a wee bit of mastery so they can feel hopeful.
Recapturing a sense of mastery is vitally important in recovery from depression. In psychotherapy, we identify what negative or distorted thinking may be contributing to feelings of helplessness. Research has shown that when someone feels helpless and out of control, they tend to avoid those situations where they are likely to feel overwhelmed. Yet, like the phobic avoidance described in the previous post, the more you avoid life, the more depressed you will become. Psychotherapy helps people to see the choices they make and to slowly incorporate fulfilling activities back into their lives. Unlike a family member making the suggestions that can easily feel like a demand or criticism-the collaborative relationship developed in counseling, allows the depressed person to take ownership for their healing. This in itself gives back a sense of control. Gradually, people can identify options and set realistic goals that enhance their sense of well-being. Whatever triggered the depressed feelings is seen from a different vantage, and automatic negative thinking begins to diminish. Going back to bed becomes less appealing as life feels more enticing.