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Depression – A Simple Description and a Way Forward

Throughout the literature the research indicates that mental health issues result from response to different stressors and experiences over time, in effect how you respond to stress. This means that these issues are stress-based.

Depression is one of these diagnosable issues and it arises as a strategy of response that was learnt during early childhood upbringing when the child is downloading survival programs from their primary caregivers.

Stress response is a physiological reaction to impending real or perceived threats on our physical, mental or emotional wellbeing. Enormous amounts of hormones and chemicals are emitted during this time. As a survival mechanism, the child has “learned” the depression response, either based on experience or what it “copies” from the adults around them. This survival response strategy has since become an habitual response pattern that has been carried forward over time. The degree to which the hormonal and chemical reactions have occurred and have damaged the nerves and cells and are affected by this response strategy, lead to the degree of severity of the mental health issue titled “depression”.

This means that any treatment option for depression needs to incorporate some measure of repairing the body.

Research indicates that the part of the mind, the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system, the subconscious brain/mind, is affected greatly during a depressive episode, and in fact, even when the episode has passed, this area remains affected. An easy description could be that the stress response mechanism becomes locked on open, and the person can experience emotional unrest on a continuous basis.

The amygdala houses emotional reactions to stimuli and events. It is the seat of past memories. When a stressful event triggers these past memories and emotions, prior experiences, chemical responses and remembered strategies of how to cope and overcome this “bad” feeling, are activated. The memories that are housed at this level, and which affect the DNA and the cells, are based on beliefs and attitudes that have been locked down into permanent memory. When an event triggers these memories the child searches through the filing cabinet of stored memories and pulls out issues that appear to be similar, which surround that event, and the remedy, the strategy that they learnt that will best overcomes this “bad” depressive feeling is brought to the fore.

The point here being that depression, as a strategic response of how to deal with a situation that was emotionally threatening, is an habitual response. If so, then it has been “learned” and therefore can be “unlearned”. However, the issue to look out for is, to be aware of how damaged the nerves and cells are and whether these can be repaired.

Why is this topic so important?

Why this topic is so important is that depression has now been defined as a mental health issue which has been clinically diagnosed within the DSM-5 Manual. (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders) and comes under many headings – different types and severity of depression.

Mental Health issues cost business and society in general, world-wide, an enormous amount each year, and is rising. The direct and indirect costs of these types of issues has been variously asserted to be at least $210 Billion each year in the US. Costs in Australia and New Zealand are estimated to be approximately $56 Billion each year.

In the US depression costs $44 Billion of that pie. The fact that it is rising and is most prevalent in the workplace, along with related depressive issues such as: sleep disorders, back pain, migraines, anxiety and PTSD, makes this an issue worth examining.

It has been said that depression is not just about having a bad day. It is more serious than that and generally when one is depressed this state negatively affects how a person feels, thinks and acts and this means that their ability to function well at home and at work becomes impaired.

Symptoms of Depression

The DSM – 5 indicates that for depression to be called a “mental health” issue it needs to have at least five of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:

  • Feeling sad
  • Loss of interest in pleasure activities
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Changes in appetite
  • Have sleeping problems
  • Fatigue
  • Exhibiting restless activity
  • Have feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Have thoughts of death, suicide or self-harm

These symptoms are quite prevalent in the workforce especially fatigue and difficulty concentrating and making decisions.

What is the impact of depression on the workforce?

The impact of depression, as one of a group of mental health issues affecting workers today, has been outlined as:

  • Adding to absenteeism
  • Creating presenteeism
  • Adding to the increase in compensation claims
  • Adding to staff turnover
  • Lost productivity
  • General unrest
  • And contributes to unhappy work environments

Depression can also affect:

  • Time management
  • Completing tasks
  • Social interactions, and
  • Communication in general

Studies in the US indicate that early detection and effective treatment can help alleviate the above symptoms. Effective treatment has been defined as including: medication, psychotherapy, and/or ECT electroconvulsive therapy or other mind-altering therapies.

The prominent direction for effective treatment appears to be: diagnose the issue by a registered mental health expert, prescribe medication (generally antidepressants) then introduce psychotherapy. And. If all else fails, introduce electroconvulsive therapy.

Why does depression arise – what are the causes?

In his book, The Biology of Belief, Dr Bruce Lipton outlines his theories and espouses that your beliefs can affect and change your DNA, so what you think, feel and how you behave is altered by these beliefs and effects on your physiology, in general.

What this all means is that up to 95% of all diseases are stress-based. The other thing is that stress is cumulative and unless and until you get to the underlying issues that are the real cause of your stress and deal with them, and then deprogram and reprogram your conscious and subconscious minds, you will continue to repeat patterns of behaviour and response patterns to stress, in similar ways. These have become habits over time.

So, this means if you have been repeating  the habitual response pattern of depression, then this means that eventually the belief patterns of negativity that you keep repeating will change your DNA and your cells and hence your chemical and electrical signals will become skewed such that positivity and rational thought will give way to a more permanent state of negativity and hopelessness, as the person affected by these hormonal and chemical responses will become stuck in a depressive state or mood, and the thought of being able to shift out of this state seems beyond hope.

A depressive state is a build-up of a physiological reaction from initial beliefs, thoughts, emotions and reactions over time. This becomes more permanent the more habitual this type of behavioural reaction has been practised and repeated.

These chemical reactions tend to damage nerves and the interconnections between nerve branching. Depending on how damaged these nerve cells are they may be able to be encouraged to regrow given the right nourishment.

In the US the common treatment option – antidepressants, have been known to enable nerve growth and mending of damaged cells. However, this may not always be the case.

What other repair options are available to help people with depression?

Research indicates that if you change your thinking it can cause significant measurable changes in brain chemistry and functioning.

In essence, if you instigated some mindfulness techniques such as meditation, this then would help you change how your brain worked and hopefully help you move out of negativity and into positivity.

I would suggest that a depressed person would find it very difficult to instigate meditation in a meaningful way as it would take far too much willpower. If you are depressed, you will not have sufficient willpower to choose better options.

A simpler way might be to approach healing from a position of mending your physiology, your body first. Stress depletes Vitamin B, so any plan would need to include: movement, improved diet and appropriate vitamins and minerals.

Once that has been started I would suggest commencing a new pattern of breathing to bring the body back into the rhythm of life. Without breath there is no life. Breath affects the rhythm of your heart. If your heart is out of sync then your brain will not function effectively.

You can start to mend your heart by feeding it nourishment in the form of gratitude, appreciation and self-acceptance. When you feed your heart love and appreciation you start to retrain your cells to be happier more naturally.

These very simple steps of repatterning what you do think and feel and how you behave will change your default state/position from being depressive to an increased, more resilient, more positive state of well-being.