THERE ARE 3 main points of view about the causes of depression. Most commonly held is the view that it is generally some combination of these three.
- Depression is a medical disease, caused by a neurochemical or hormonal imbalance.
- Depression is caused by certain styles of thinking.
- Depression is a result of unfortunate experiences.
While each of these can be argued strongly to be a cause of depression, each also leaves many important questions unanswered. On the surface, each has a strong case, but none give us the complete picture. Here are some important considerations:
- Although depression causes physical symptoms, and on rare occasions has physical causes, it is not a disease.
- A core aspect of depression is thinking styles, but does being a pessimist inevitably cause depression?
- Trauma, upheaval or sad experiences can seem to trigger depression, but why in people whose circumstances are similar, do some suffer from depression and others don’t?
- How can your thinking style cause the horrific physical symptoms of depression? (This will be answered shortly)
Only when we consider all the aspects surrounding depression can we truly see how the pieces fit together, giving us a real understanding of the causes of depression, and therefore the best way to beat it.
By looking at the current thinking on these ’causes’ of depression, we can piece together a true understanding of depression and explode some of the myths surrounding it.
1) On depression as a disease
As we have seen, depression is not a disease. The physical symptoms are just that, symptoms, and not causes.
Being depressed can feel like a physical disorder because you often feel exhausted, experience pain, have changes in appetite, and so on.
A key to understanding depression lies in looking at how the exhaustion and the physical effects of depression are caused by the link between emotionally arousing thoughts, dreaming and exhaustion. (More on this soon.)
2) Depression and thinking styles
It’s fairly obvious that depression is not an inevitable consequence of things going wrong. Different people react to adversity in different ways, and this has led to the study of how depressed peoples’ thinking styles compare to those who don’t depress.
Inside, often feeling guilty for being depressed as well – ‘I should be happy’ is the common thought.
Other people can have many external disadvantages and yet never become depressed.
When dealing with depression, it is vital to understand that there are many ways of dealing with adversity, some of which will tend to cause depression, and others which will not.
3) Depression and events in our lives
A result of bad experiences
Depression is often linked with bad experiences, but can events actually cause depression?
If something awful has happened to you, of course you’re going to feel sad, angry, hurt or in shock. And often, traumatic events can be linked to the onset of depression. This does not, however, mean they cause it.
(Important note: Post traumatic stress disorder can lead to depression due to the continuing emotionally arousing thoughts it creates. Quite apart from the results of having your life interrupted on an ongoing basis by horrific memories, the emotional arousal they create can cause depression. We will see how shortly.)
The link between what happens to a person and how they feel as a result depends on how they relate to it. That does NOT mean that people who become depressed are to be blamed, it simply gives us an insight into why depression occurs.
This is clear as we’re all aware of people enduring the most horrible circumstances imaginable without becoming clinically depressed.
Events can be seen to be a trigger for depression, but depression is not caused by what happens to us in life (although every one needs a break sometimes). It’s about how we respond and make sense of events.
Depression relies how we explain things to ourselves
Much of clinical depression is about how we interpret reality. And when we start to develop depression symptoms, a depressive thinking style can seem impossible to break.
By understanding depressive thinking styles, we can begin to see how they form a pattern of thinking, a cycle of depression, that creates a downward spin and so continues to fuel the depression. We will look at how to break this cycle later in the Depression Learning Path.