Everyone feels sad sometimes. There are moments in life when we suffer. The death of a loved one, a breakup, job loss or any other adverse event can make us feel very bad. It is normal. It is part of life and it does not mean that you have depression.
Depression is something else.
It is extreme sadness accompanied by feelings of emptiness and despair that stretches out for days and weeks. It interferes with your daily activities, it takes away your interest in things you used to enjoy, it steals your will to live and can even cause physical pain.
The good news is that depression is treatable.
The first step in recovering from depression: seeking help
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders: it affects approximately 280 million people in the world and is one of the main causes of disability. Unfortunately, more than 75% of those affected do not receive treatment.
The false beliefs that still persist about depression are one of the reasons why many people do not even seek psychological help. Some believe that depression is a mere sign of a weak character or emotional instability that is dealt with by resorting to willpower.
Nothing is further from reality. Depression is a disorder in which several factors come together, some of a biological nature and others environmental, so it is not something that you can simply “get out of” or that will disappear as if by magic.
When you suffer from major depression, willpower or the desire to improve is not enough. It is not enough to “do your part”. It is a disorder that requires adequate psychological treatment.
Antidepressant drugs are often effective in relieving symptoms, especially in severe depression, but psychotherapy is also an effective treatment, especially to prevent relapse. For this reason, the first step in recovering from depression is to seek psychological support.
How does a psychologist help a person with depression?
Psychologists can use different therapeutic approaches to address depression, from cognitive behavioral treatment to psychodynamic therapy. However, generally the basic approach is the same since they work with persons to help them recover from depression, becoming aware of the factors that cause and aggravate the disorder so that they can address them in a more adaptive way.
Psychologists help people with depression to:
• Detect the problems that are causing or aggravating depression, whether psychological, behavioral, interpersonal or situational. The psychologist helps the person with depression to identify the factors that aggravate the disorder so that they can focus on the aspects that can be solved or improved. In therapy you will be able to discover the learned behavior patterns and inadequate coping strategies that feed pessimism and hopelessness, so that you can escape their negative influence.
• Identify negative or distorted thought patterns that contribute to feelings of hopelessness and desperation that accompany depression. For example, depressed people tend to overgeneralize thinking in terms of “always” or “never” and take things too personally. A psychologist will help them detect those cognitive biases or irrational beliefs so that they can put more positive and realistic thoughts in their place that allow them to feel better and develop a more optimistic vision of life.
• Promote more adaptive coping strategies, both behaviorally and emotionally, so that persons can not only deal with the current problems that worry them, but also be able to successfully face adverse situations in the future without falling into depression. For example, a psychologist can help persons with depression improve interaction patterns that affect their mood, give them tools to better manage recurring negative thoughts, or teach them to deal with adverse experiences in a more resilient way.
• Look for options for the future and set realistic goals aimed at promoting mental and emotional well-being. Through therapy, the psychologist helps people with depression to regain control over their lives and rediscover pleasure and joy. Thanks to psychotherapy, people are able to glimpse the possibilities that depression hid under its gray cloak, so that they gradually incorporate pleasant and satisfying activities that fill their lives and restore meaning.
Psychological therapy also provides valuable emotional support, providing a safe place where you can express your fears, worries and concerns. It is important to remember that having one episode of depression greatly increases the risk of developing another. This is a complex and challenging disorder that should not be underestimated. However, it is possible to recover from depression with the right treatment.
Psychotherapy decreases the possibility of developing future depressive episodes or reduces their intensity, especially when it is intervened during the early phases. Numerous studies have confirmed that psychological support is vital to recover from depression and avoid relapse. Research carried out at University College London, for example, found that cognitive-behavioral treatment, mindfulness-based therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy decreased the risk of developing other depressive symptoms by 22%.
A psychologist will help you understand what is happening to you and develop new coping strategies that allow you to better deal with the underlying problems in a supportive and understanding environment. If you are struggling with depression or know someone who suffers from this disorder, it is important to seek psychological help. With therapy you can regain your well-being and live a brighter future.
Clarke, K. et. Al. (2015) Can non-pharmacological interventions prevent relapse in adults who have recovered from depression? A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clin Psychol Rev; 39: 58-70.
Cuijpers, P. et. Al. (2014) Adding psychotherapy to antidepressant medication in depression and anxiety disorders: a meta-analysis. World Psychiatry; 13(1): 56-67.
Brown, C. et. Al. (2000) Factors associated with symptomatic improvement and recovery from major depression in primary care patients. Gen Hosp Psychiatry; 22(4):242-50.