Saying “I’m depressed” is easy. We do it all the time: when life has thrown up some issues and we’re not having a good day, it’s so easy to say “I’m just a bit depressed” – Except, true, clinical depression is a very different beast, as anyone who has suffered themselves or seen others go through, it can attest.
It is a black and terrible place from which it can seem there is no escape. True depression seeps into every aspect of your life, taking away all enjoyment – sometimes it can even take away all your emotions, leaving you feeling numb and utterly discontented with your life, family and friends.
Clinical depression is like an insidious weed that plants itself at the centre of your life…and grows. The roots of depression take hold and spread like invasive ivy through your days and thoughts until it becomes a dark, twisted tree that looms over everything – leaving you cold and alone in its great shadow.
Therapy can help you to find and tackle the roots of depression, and just like any weed, if you kill the root then the rest will wither. Talking therapies can give you the tools and the strategies you need to tackle the dark, twisted tree of your depression,
So how does depression start? What are its roots and how do they become a part of our lives? Experts generally agree that the roots of depression lay in a combination of both biological and environmental circumstances – although it is less clear which comes first.
There has always been much debate as to whether a tendency or vulnerability to depression can be inherited. Even today experts still puzzle over the role that the genes we inherit from our parents play in the likelihood that an individual will suffer from depression, or at least be susceptible to it. Certainly, depression involves a change in brain chemistry so it’s perfectly correct to maintain that there is an identified biological cause – but is the root of that set from birth? The issue of whether depression runs in families can be debated but most experts agree that it is a latent potential instead of an absolute certainty – in other words, while our genes may hold the potential for us to develop depression at some point during our lives it takes other factors to kick it into effect. This is where the category of environmental factors comes into play.
When we speak about the environmental issues which spark depression we are really talking about two different areas: our past experiences (such as our upbringing) and the events which take place in the here and now.
It’s easy to relate how our early experiences are instrumental in the ideas we form about the world and our place in it. A child who experiences physical or emotional loss (even if this does not involve losing their caregiver physically) learns to fear the world, seeing it as a dark and threatening place. Experiences of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional or mental) can breed inner negative beliefs around anger, guilt and worthlessness of the sufferer. However, it’s not just the ‘traumatic’ experiences that can form the experiential roots of depression. A cold, harsh or lonely early environment can influence us to adopt negative self-beliefs or ways of thinking (more on this later). Lack of affection or a parent who is emotionally distant can be equally damaging.
Consequently, many experts agree that the roots of depression lie in the combination of biological and early negative environmental influences. All it takes for depression to start growing is a negative life event – whether that’s a single traumatic cause or a series of smaller negative events. This can start us on the negative downward spiral of thinking and behaviours which typify depression. However, it is equally important that we not only take responsibility for our recovery but also for our feelings and experiences in the present.
It is a key fact that the way we think influences the way we feel. This is the basis for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT). The idea that changing the way we think about things can alter the way we feel is well established in the field of psychology and therapy. In depression (and other mental illnesses) we slip into negative thinking styles which give us a distorted view of the world, ourselves and the issues we face.
There are several different types of unhelpful, negative thinking styles – all of which serve to reinforce depression and an unrealistic, negative view of things. Below are some of these with examples and a more positive way of challenging them:
This is the process by which we take a lopsided view of an event, person or circumstance. In filtering, we ignore all the positives and concentrate solely on the negative aspects. If we succeed at something we dismiss it as not really counting if we are judging a situation we see only what can go wrong instead of a more balanced view of probabilities. Ask yourself what positives you are dismissing or what negative assumptions you are making.
Here we take a completely unrealistic, black and white view of the world, our achievements and events. We are either a complete success or a total failure, absolutely right or absolutely wrong, well or ill. The reality, however, is more complex with events and people more properly being seen as shades of grey, rather than just black & white. Things are never ALL bad or ALL good but a combination of the two.
Here we come to a general conclusion based on only one event. In this we believe that just because something bad happened then everything is bad and that it will repeat in a never-ending cycle of defeat and failure. Over-generalising prevents you from seeing each situation as a separate, unique event. Are all situations absolutely the same or is each situation is different with its own ingredients?
In this we assume that things will always turn out badly and completely believe this prediction to be an established fact. For example, you may dismiss the idea of talking about a fear or problem to a friend or loved one as you are convinced they will laugh at or dismiss your worries, without testing this theory out. Challenge your bad predictions and negative beliefs. Experiment to see whether your prediction is actually correct.
We are convinced that disaster will strike, no matter what evidence there is to the contrary. The assumption is that everything is a complete and utter disaster. Ask yourself: Is it really that bad?
You have a series of arbitrary, unrealistic rules which govern how you behave and think. E.g. “I should be better by now”, “I must not let my family see that I’m upset”, “I ought to stay away from my friends – I just bring them down”. Avoid using should, must and ought in your thinking.
In this negative thinking style we believe that just because we feel something that makes it automatically true. Because you feel like a failure, you must be one or just because you feel a situation is hopeless, it really is. Where is the evidence that your conclusion is correct? Ask a trusted friend for their view of things.
You compare yourself unfavourably to others without thinking about all the real variables. Here you forget that everyone’s start in life is unique and there are people much worse off than yourself. Acknowledge that you are unique and your self-worth cannot be measured. Act on your own values and goals.
Challenging your thinking style through professional therapy isn’t the only way of reclaiming your life from the depression weed – Physical activity can be very helpful in releasing feel-good hormones called endorphins into your body. Getting up off the sofa may seem like an insurmountable mountain to climb on the darkest of days but remember: just because you feel something that doesn’t make it automatically true! What is a fact is that we can act physically without needing to feel a certain way: you are still capable of walking even if all you want to do is sit…Remember: When you don’t want to, YOU MUST!
What are your tips on tacking the roots of depression?
How have you tamed the roots of your depression? We’re always pleased to hear about your personal experiences, as well as your tips and observations. So feel free to leave your comments below.