Depression is a commonly known and often spoken about mental health condition. But what is Depression? It is one of the most largely known and it is likely that you regularly hear others describe their mood as “depressed” or explaining that a movie that they just saw was “depressing”.
This kind of casual and frequent language tends to imply the meaning of what it is to experience. Generally an idea of what it is like to be depressed exists through this in broader society. The reality of what a diagnosis entails as opposed to having low mood is very different.
What does the research say?
Depression is a highly researched and well validated mental health condition that is well known in Psychology. Much is known about the causes, course, and treatment of Depression.
The first place to look to find this information is in the formal guide of psychological diagnoses, being the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In the fifth edition of the DSM, Major Depressive Disorder is explained as displaying these syptoms
A depressed mood that last most of the day
Is experienced almost every day
A diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities
Significant weight loss without dieting or significant weight gain
A significant loss or increase in sleep almost every day
Observed restlessness or slowed movement
Difficulty thinking or concentrating
Recurring thoughts of death including suicidal thoughts.
These symptoms of Major Depression Disorder must cause significant impairment to the person’s life and should not be able to be attributed to another condition. Major Depression Disorder is a commonly known form of Depression in society broadly.
While people may not know the specific symptoms or criteria that qualify a diagnosis, most have seen a representation of someone with Major Depressive Disorder in media such as in movies or on TV.
Such representations can be misleading and can lead to feelings of sadness, disappointment, grief, and many other emotions related to low mood as being mis-identified as Depression. The critical difference between these temporary emotions and Depression is the intensity, frequency, and length of the experienced mood disruption.
Can these symptoms improve?
Fortunately, while the difficulties and symptoms of Depression have been researched, so have the treatments and course of recovery from Depression.
Major Depressive Disorder consists of major depressive episodes that last at least two weeks. There may be periods of improved mood and absence of symptoms between depressive episodes, however without active efforts to build strategies to help with symptoms experienced, another depressive episode may bring back the same severity of difficulty experienced in previous episodes.
What is the treatment for Depression?
Fortunately, many forms of support for people with a diagnosis of Depression exist. The most recommended and the gold standard in Depression treatment exists in therapy and specifically, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).
CBT aims to identify unhelpful thoughts that cause distress and lead to low mood and negative emotion and continues to challenge negative assumptions and perceptions that hinder our beliefs about ourselves and others.
What can I do to support someone who is experiencing Depression?
If you know someone who may be experiencing Depression, a simple way to help can be as easy as getting in touch with them and spending some time with them.
Often people with Depression feel very isolated and unheard, having someone to simply listen to them, even if you feel unable to help them solve anything, can be extremely valuable in helping that person feel heard and validated. Furthermore, this connection can be the first step to helping someone seek support.
What is Behavioural Action and how can it help?
Another simple way of improving symptoms includes behavioural activation. As people with Depression will typically withdraw from the majority of their previous activities, this involves engaging in an activity the person experiencing Depression enjoys and is most motivated to do.
An example of this might simply be to go to the local shops and buy themselves their favourite food, this then is an easily accessible activity that requires a lowered amount of emotional energy that may help the person to become motivated to attempt more activities as they have begun building a sense of achievement in engaging in activities.
Behavioural activation then helps an individual to enjoy parts of life that they have isolated themselves from and reinforces a positive outlook on engaging in various parts of their life again.