Therapy for depression

Depression symptoms
Causes of depression
What you can do to help your depression
Therapy for depression
A word about the "stigma" around therapy...
References

You don't want to get out of bed. Nothing really seems worth doing. You are not hungry or you feel like eating the whole refrigerator. Chances are, you have some type of depression. Depression is a normal response to certain life events and if it passes in a reasonable time, there is nothing to worry about. If it lingers, if your life seems stuck in a rut then it deserves your attention. There are many changes that you can make that will help alleviate your depression. If these prove insufficient or if your depression is difficult to manage, these are signs that you should seek professional help.
To begin with, you should know what the typical symptoms of depression are or "what it looks like." Below is a list of the most common symptoms.



Why isn't anything fun anymore?

Where did all my energy
go?

Depression symptoms



Now that you know what it looks like, you may be wondering "where did this come from?" There can be current causes and "legacy" (from your past) causes. Current causes tend to be easier to deal because their roots are more obvious and solutions more immediate. For example, you were just laid off from your job and you find yourself with little energy or initiative. It makes sense that the job loss is the present cause. Part of the solution is to grieve the loss of your old job and begin a search for a new one.

Older or "legacy" causes of depression are more difficult to identify and take longer to resolve. Take an example of a man who feels that "I just can't do anything right." After some exploring, we find out that when he was young, he would try to fix things. When his father would see him fixing things, he would abruptly grab the tools from his sons hands and say "you don't know what the hell you are doing. Give me those tools" and proceed to fix it. The boy internalized the message and now has a belief (a false belief but a belief nonetheless) that he can't do anything right. That said, here are some common causes of depression.

Causes of depression



What you can do to help your depression


First, get all the social support that you can

quote marks
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You, too? Thought I was the only one"

-- C.S. Lewis

This may be family, friends, church or any group where you feel supported. While social support is important in mental health, the quality of that support is also important. From the American Psychologist:

There is substantial evidence that the perceived availability of social support buffers the effect of stress on psychological distress, depression, and anxiety (1994).

While social support is beneficial, relationships that are unsupportive or primarily negative (frequent criticism, discouragement, etc) will likely have the reverse effect and thus increase your anxiety.


Second, exercise

Reduced depression is just one of the many benefits of exercise. Here is an excerpt from the book "How God changes your brain"

All forms of exercise enhance neural performance and rebuild damaged circuits caused by brain lesions and strokes. Exercise improves cognition and academic performance. It repairs and protects you from the neurological damage caused by stress. It enhances brain plasticity. It boosts immune function. It reduces anxiety. It can be used to treat clinical depression, and it is just as effective as antidepressants. In fact, for older patients, exercise is equivalent to twelve sessions of psychodynamic psychotherapy. It slows down the loss of brain tissue as you age, protects you from Alzheimer's disease, and reduces your vulnerability to chronic illness.

Third, create meaning in your life.

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He who has a why to live can bear almost any how

-- Friedrich Nietzsche

Depression can be a response to the thought that your life has little meaning. One way that you can create meaning in your life is through service. This may be listening to a friend, volunteering at your place of worship, caring for a pet or giving to those in need. The world is in great need of those who care enough to give.

Fourth, depression may signal that you need to change some relationships.

quote marks
Don't be reckless with other people's hearts, and don't put up with people that are reckless with yours

-- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

This does not mean abandoning any relationships that are challenging or even difficult in your life. But it does mean restructuring those relationships so that they become more supportive. All the relationships in your life should support you in your growth and development. People you choose to have in your life should honor your boundaries and treat you as a valuable person and an equal. You cannot hope to feel good if people around you treat you with disrespect and disregard. If you are unsure about how to restructure the relationships in your life, seek the advice of those you respect and trust. Alternatively, you might seek to learn new communication and relationship skills with the assistance of a therapist.

Therapy for depression


All the behavior changes listed above are important ways that you can help alleviate your depression. But there are limits to what you can do for yourself. If you are feeling depressed for a lengthy period of time, it is a good idea to consult with a therapist. A therapist can also help identify issues that may be contributing to your depression. For example, you may be so worried about your relationship that the worry itself contributes to your depression. This is an example of how a chronic fear or anxiety can contribute to depression.

A word about the "stigma" around therapy...


For some people, there is a stigma attached to therapy. I have heard some people say that "only crazy people go to therapy." This is nonsense. It is like saying that the only people who are out of shape go to the gym. People who do go to the gym maintain and improve their physical health. In the same way, those that avail themselves of therapy maintain and improve their mental health. This ability to seek help demonstrates psychological strength and should be a source of pride. If anyone should be concerned, it is those who need therapy and don't avail themselves of it.



References

Cohen, S (2004). Social Relationship and Health., American Psychologist, 59(8), pp. 676-684.
Newberg, A., Waldman, M. (2009). How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. NewYork: Ballantine Books.