Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses. It is a mood disorder characterised by persistent feelings of low mood, tearfulness, feelings of worthlessness, increased or decreased appetite, hypersomnia or insomnia and in some cases suicidal ideation. Women are more likely to suffer from depression than men. Periods of depression can last for months or even years, and once a person has suffered an episode of depression they are likely to suffer further episodes throughout their lives.
There are both genetic and environmental theories about the cause of depression. However, many psychologists favour the stress-diathesis model which states that a biological predisposition to depression may exist which is triggered by stressful life events, leading to the onset of depression. Indeed, numerous research studies support this theory. Although depression can occur at anytime in one's life, it is usually onset in adolescence or the early twenties.
The Effect of Social Isolation on Depression
Although depression is a common mental illness, there is still a negative stigma surrounding it. People who suffer from depression often have feelings of guilt about the way that they feel and become socially withdrawn. Similarly, those surrounding a person with depression often feel unable to cope with their persistent misery. It is understandable that most people do not want to have to 'put up with it'. This can lead to further social isolation which in turn further contributes to the severity of depression. Indeed, social support has consistently been demonstrated to be a crucial factor in both physical and mental health.
Depression can feel like a suffocating force that is constantly increasing its pressure on a person, or like a spiral in which the only way is down. The longer a person suffers from depression alone and untreated, the harder it becomes to find a way out of it. It is hard to think in a rational way whilst amidst the fog of depression, and so unfortunately many people do continue to suffer in silence with some seeing suicide as the only way out.
How to Survive Depression: Medication
However, depression is treatable. There exist both medications and psychotherapies that are effective in treating depression, but one must first take the necessary step of asking for help. When someone is suffering from depression they find it hard to remember a time when things were good and when they felt happy, and they find it even more difficult to imagine ever being happy again. Nevertheless, depression can be conquered.
Some episodes of depression pass on their own over time, while others only increase in severity until some form of intervention. The first port of call should be a person's doctor. They can prescribe medication and refer a patient for psychotherapy. There are several types of anti-depressant medication that work well for depression. However, side effects like weight gain and sexual dysfunction often lead people to discontinue them. Similarly, most anti-depressants are prescribed for a relatively long period of time, leading people to worry about becoming dependant on them.
How to Survive Depression: Psychotherapy
A possible alternative or companion to medication in the mission to survive depression is psychotherapy. Both cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and person centred therapy (PCT) are effective forms of psychotherapy in treating depression. CBT challenges the irrational thinking that develops during depression and equips people with practical strategies and techniques to work through their feelings. PCT, on the other hand, provides people with empathy, unconditional positive regard and a safe environment to talk through their feelings. Given the social isolation that is often felt during depression this environment is often exactly what is needed.
In conclusion, depression need not be a lifelong burden, although it often feels like this for people with the illness. The key to surviving depression lies in having the strength to seek the help that is out there. Greater awareness of depression among the general public would be of great benefit, as it may encourage people to look out for signs of depression in their family and friends and reduce the negative stigma that often prevents people from pursuing help.
Kring, A.M., Davison, G.C., Neale, J.M. & Johnson, S.L. (2007) Abnormal Psychology. USA: John Wiley & Sons.
Bentall, R.P. (2003) Madness Explained. London: Penguin Books.