What is Depression?

Understanding Depression Series – No.1: What is Depression?


This is the first in a series of articles that will attempt to break down the condition known as “Depression” into sizable chunks so that it will hopefully be easier to digest.

By no means is it an easy subject to explore. There is no “one size fits all” with this condition and it varies in intensity and severity across a wide range. It must also be said at the outset of this series, that everyone’s experience will be different in some way. There is, however enough of an overlap in terms of the experience of depression across individuals, to at least describe some of the common experiences that people have within their depression.

You might wonder just who these articles are aimed at? My answer to that question is “Pretty much everyone”. I appreciate that someone who is in the depths of depression might find it hard to concentrate and read articles, but that does not apply to all.

So if you want to get an understanding of this subject which comes from both first-hand sources (namely me) and also from the hundreds of clients I have worked with as a therapist over many years, then I hope you will find that these articles are for you.

Let’s Get Started

To try to understand what depression is, let’s get a few of the misconceptions out of the way first:

  1. Depression is not the same as feeling miserable. I often hear people say, “I feel depressed today” which is simply a way of saying “I’m not in a good mood” or “I feel unhappy” for whatever reason.
  2. Ever heard someone say “Snap out of it!” I know I know I have. Well if you are truly depressed, then snapping out of it (sic) is impossible. If it were that simple, then we wouldn’t have depression on near epidemic proportions in our society today.
  3. Depression sufferers are not “weak-willed”, “pathetic” or “lazy”.
  4. Most depression sufferers have little or no control over the condition.

So now we’ve got those out of the way, what exactly is it? Well, that’s where the problems start because no two people are alike. The experience of depression will be different for everyone in either large or small and subtle ways.

Before we get into specifics, let’s take a quick look at the different categories of depression that doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists like to use. I think it’s a useful thing to do to recognise the language used when they diagnose depression, along with getting a very basic “feel” of what might be called the symptoms:

  • Bipolar (Manic) Depression – This is regarded as being a deficiency in the organic nature of the brain (lack of lithium in the neurons) which causes extremes of emotions, thrusting the sufferer into ecstatic “highs” and literally moments later into the depths of despair. This condition is usually treated with drugs.
  • Clinical Depression or Persistent Depressive Disorder – thoughts on the nature of this condition vary. Some sources regard it as being a brain chemical disorder. Others think of it as a psychological condition (we will discuss the merits vs demerits of this in a later article). Either way, it is long-term (lasting years or even a lifetime) condition and requires significant medical input. Often treated with drugs and/or therapy.
  • Mild to Moderate Depression – probably the most common form, affecting the majority of people diagnosed (or not) with depression. The symptoms vary considerably, but generally speaking, they will include extreme lethargy, isolation, irritability, inability to concentrate, persistent worrying and anxiety.
  • Psychotic Depression – this form is unusual in that sufferers may be experiencing a more serious depression and then they can begin to experience feelings of paranoia, delusions or even hallucinations.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder – as the name implies, this is a depression which is related to the time of year. It will usually be associated with dark, cold and wet seasons.
  • Peripartium / Postpartium Depression – these are depressive episodes that occur in women either during pregnancy or after the birth. The latter is also known as Post Natal depression.

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  • Pre-menstrual depression – with a shift in female hormones this can trigger depression just prior to monthly menstruation.
  • Situational Depression – this type of depression is also quite common as it is a form which can occur after a traumatic incident or significant life change. It could be seen to be the same as Mild to Moderate Depression above. It is also known as an Adjustment Disorder. Don’t confuse this with bereavement (see below).

Some Basic Facts About Depression

We will be going into more specific detail in subsequent articles. For now, I just want to talk about a few points which are most pertinent for everyone to know about depression:

  • Depression always has a start point (cause) even if that cause is not known. That start point could be absolutely anything, either in your current life, recent or distant past. Part of the problem with depression is actually finding out what is the initial cause.
  • Depression is usually a reaction to and is linked with some internalised method of thinking (cognitive process) and/or belief system (with associated emotions). This means depression is an emotional state that is generated as a result of some kind of internal confusion/frustration/stress/guilt/regret etc. which in turn is deemed unresolvable, thus causing a circular all consuming mixture of revolving thought and strong negative emotions, usually aimed at themselves.
  • Depression is a psychological RESULT of some external event or influence. No matter how we see things, we develop our own internal valuing systems over time (which can be fluid). The possibilities for conflict with our valuing systems are endless. Often we don’t have sufficiently developed thinking processes to cope (such as a child who is abused). It’s mostly about how we cope (internally and behaviourally) with all manner of events and experiences that will determine whether we become depressed or not.
  • Some forms of depression are linked to trauma, either recent or long in the past, which may have been either one single event or a series of events over a long period of time. This could play out as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression, or indeed a combination of both.
  • Depression can be BEATEN with the right help and with determination.

(Please Note: the above list does not include depression which stems from organic brain disorders).

That’s all for this time. I will be back soon with the next article in this series. I hope to see you then.

If you like what you have seen here then please take a look at my book “The Whole Family“.

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A book to make your home life a happy one – by Steve Chriscole

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Steve Chriscole is a former Counselling Therapist (Psychotherapist) turned teacher and freelance writer for hire on a wide variety of mental health matters. Both in person and in his writing, he is passionate about raising awareness of anxiety and depression in particular, as well as growth in self-awareness and self-confidence in order to help people lead happier and more productive lives.

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