Depression is estimated to be the most prevalent mental disorder worldwide. It is a mood disorder, which prevents individuals from leading normal lives. There are many schools of thoughts regarding the roots of depression, and many of the theories are interrelated. One psychological theory that I find particularly helpful conceptually and clinically is the humanist theory. Humanists believe that human beings are happiest when they are able to achieve their potential and that when that potential is not met, it is difficult to have a meaningful life. When events or people get in the way of individuals reaching their potential (or “self-actualising”), depression may be caused.
According to the humanist approach, examples of what might cause depression include:
- Parents inability to show unconditional love (i.e., “I don’t accept you for who you are, but if you were more this way or that way, I would love and accept you.”). Therefore, a child could do poorly in certain subjects at school that a parent values, develop a poor self-image, and feel depressed for not living up to his or her parents’ standards.
- Some children may try to avoid this phenomenon by pretending to be what their parents want them to be and in turn denying their true self. The splitting off of the true self from the facade causes self hatred.
- As adults, fulfilling one’s potential is undermined by unhappy relationships and jobs. An alienating job does not allow a person to be creative and show themselves through their work. An empty relationship does not allow one to give and take love.
We help clients who come to us with depression to examine the roadblocks in their lives–both past and present–that may be holding them back from fulfilling their potential so that they can work towards leading a depression free life.
Chemical Imbalance Theory
There is a popular notion, spread heavily by the American psychopharmaceutical industry for the last 30 years, that symptoms are simply caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain (a lack of serotonin), and that antidepressant medications repair the balance. However, there is now scientific consensus that chemical imbalances do not “cause” depression. As a recent article in Scientific American explains, believing that the cause of depression is due to a lack of chemicals such as serotonin is like thinking that headaches are caused by a lack of aspirin. Rather, scientists now understand that depression is likely caused by a complex and interconnected combination of social, psychological, and biological factors. Modern evidence against the folk hypothesis that depression is caused by chemical imbalances comes from the efficacy of an antidepressant called Stablon (Tianeptine), which has unpredictably improved depression symptoms in some subjects be decreasing serotonin, rather than increasing it. A further challenge to the chemical imbalance myth is that there is little evidence that antidepressants cause enduring help for the majority of patients. Even in the short term, one third of patients do not show depression symptom improvement with SSRIs and a significant portion of the remainder remain depressed, while feeling only somewhat better. Therefore, it is necessary to explore non-chemical explanations for depression. It is advisable for clients to talk with their GPs while considering that pros and cons to taking medication for depression.
If you experienced a traumatic event in childhood, did not have an attuned caretaker, were abused physically or emotionally, or were not helped to learn good coping skills as you grew up, this can leave you less able to cope with difficulties as an adult and more prone to depression.