Sadness is a natural part of life, a natural emotion that is triggered by seeing or experiencing something that proves painful. While sadness has a negative connotation, as it’s generally associated with a lack of personal well-being, it actually plays a vital function in all our lives – it helps us assimilate and deal with loss. The feeling of sadness allows us to accept the need to make changes that will help us overcome obstacles, thereby encouraging personal growth. What happens though, when sadness goes from being an ally that we are able to control to an overwhelming threat to our happiness, one that blinds us to the reality of our situation, convincing us there’s no way to escape the black hole in which we find ourselves?
There’s a fine line between a “normal” emotional reaction and the pathological reaction known as depression. According to the World Health Organisation, depression is characterised by a profound feeling of sadness or despair that continues over a prolonged period of time, significantly impacting on a person’s daily routine. These feelings of hopelessness and despair are often accompanied by an overwhelming sense of guilt and occasionally by suicidal tendencies. And unfortunately the disorder is on the rise as statistics show that it currently affects over 350 million people world-wide.
The healing process
In most cases (excluding cases of endogenous depression, that have biological causes) the depressive state involves an emotional unbalance caused by the absence of the coping mechanism that helps a person to adapt to and deal with a problematic situation like the loss of a loved one, a personal failure or disappointment or chronic pain.
There are two things that lead a person to experience this type of depression – their personality (pessimistic tendencies, introversion etc) and their perceptual frameworks. Perceptual frameworks that are commonly associated with depression involve irrational ideas (“If something doesn’t work out well it’s because I’m just not good enough”) that trigger depressive thought patterns (“I’m useless, my life isn’t worth living”).
This means that if you want to cure this type of depression you will need to analyse the factors that have lead the person to their current state of mind and the underlying ideas that cause this distorted and erroneous way of thinking. Only then will you be able to modify behaviour and break the pathological cycle that characterises the depression.
What roles do medication and therapy play?
While medication and therapy involve two very different approaches, they share a common goal – to act directly or indirectly on the biochemistry of the brain, (the physiological base of emotions), thereby improving emotional well-being.
Second-generation antidepressants use selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to stop serotonin levels from dropping too low.
Psychotherapy, on the other hand tries, to achieve similar ends using more indirect - but longer-lasting -methods. It modifies behaviour and thought patterns, teaching the individual to incorporate new behavioural patterns that promote natural stimulation of serotonin in the brain. Studies show that with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) the risk of relapse is reduced for a period of approximately six years.
Whatever the case, the treatment for each individual case will depend on the results of the clinical evaluation and the biopsychosocial characteristics of each individual type of depression. Medication is generally prescribed when a case is deemed to be either moderate or severe, when the individual requires medication to stabilise their cognitive function so that they can respond to some form of psychological therapy (whether this therapy is provided simultaneously or at a later date).
When treated in time by qualified health-care professionals (independent of the course of treatment prescribed), depression generally has a good recovery rate. Accepting you have a problem and that you need help is the first step on the road to recovery, a road that will help you to rebuild your life so that you can find both the happiness and satisfaction you deserve.
Author: Marta Mero, Psychologist
Last Modification: December 1, 2016
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