When you hear the word depression, you may automatically imagine a sad person crying uncontrollably and being isolated from other people. But if that’s the case, what’s the difference between depression and sadness? And what are the causes of a depression disorder?
It is a huge mistake to confuse these two concepts. They may seem closely related. But there is a spectrum where the disorder depression is at the furthest and most incapacitating end.
We know that emotions have an important adaptive function. Whether they are positive or negative, we need all the emotions to function properly in our environment. Even though sadness is a “negative emotion,” it is still healthy and helps us adapt. In fact, in part, grief has enabled us to survive as a species.
For example, if you lose a loved one, you will feel sad. You will also feel pain. But if you deal with it in a healthy way, you will go through some or all of the stages of grief. Because this is the idea behind it. You go through all these stages. After that, you can return to the same state you were in before the loss. Of course you will always remember that important person fondly and miss him.
So sadness is healthy and necessary. Plus, it has a purpose. That is also the reason you should allow sadness when it occurs. Don’t deny it or fight it. Because then it will disappear little by little.
What is a Depression Disorder?
As we mentioned, depressive disorder goes several steps beyond sadness. Depression is classified as a disorder. That means we have to deal with it in all seriousness. We must also give it the respect it deserves. Before we discuss some of the possible causes of a major depressive disorder, let’s first describe what this disorder is.
A major depressive disorder is defined as the simultaneous presence of several major symptoms. In addition, they should last at least two weeks. A diagnosis requires at least one of these symptoms. This can be a state of sadness or depression, or the loss of pleasure (anhedonia) in the activities that a person usually enjoyed.
But it is not enough just to have these symptoms. To speak of a major depressive disorder, the symptoms must interfere with a person’s daily life in a significant way.
A diagnosis of major depressive disorder must also meet two exclusion criteria:
- the symptoms are not caused by disease or substance use
- the symptoms are not caused by a reaction to the normal pain associated with the death of a loved one
In order for a person to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, they must also not have had manic or hypomanic episodes, schizophrenia, or any other psychotic disorder.
Causes of a major depressive disorder
We cannot speak of a single cause that determines whether a person will develop a major depressive disorder. But in the scientific literature we see that there are many different explanatory theories.
Biologically, there is said to be an imbalance in brain chemicals, especially levels of the well-known neurotransmitter serotonin. This can put a person in a state of deep sadness or the inability to enjoy.
Even today we do not have full certainty that these disturbances in the biochemical balance are a cause or an effect of depression. So it’s hard to say whether low levels of serotonin in a person’s brain is what causes a person to become despondent.
Other theories have more to do with psychology. These are the theories that are most substantiated today. The most famous theory comes from Aaron Beck. It is popular for two reasons:
- It is a theory that completely finds itself in the theoretical assumptions and methodology of information processing.
- In addition, it has led to a type of treatment – cognitive therapy. This therapy has been shown to be as effective or more effective than medication. It has another added benefit of greatly reducing the risk of relapse and side effects.
What can we learn from Beck’s theory of depression?
Beck talks about what a person feels after losing a supporter (a positive consequence of behavior). Together with the natural feeling of sadness that follows, this can cause that person to make certain cognitive mistakes.
They would make mistakes in the processing of information. This would then lead to a depression disorder and can also maintain it. This basically means that a despondent person is unable to see objectively when absorbing information from his environment. Ultimately, they distort reality in a negative way.
These are some of the distortions that are more common in depressed people:
- magnifying the negative things that happen in their lives
- minimizing the positive things that happen
- exaggerating the consequences that come from negative things
- generalize the thinking that things will always be this way and will never change
Thus, a person is plunged into a negative spiral. They have a perpetual negative image of themselves, of their experience, and even worse, of their future.
This distorted cognitive process, according to Beck, will lead to the emotional symptoms (deep sadness, loss of appetite, feeling of emptiness, and so on) and the behavioral symptoms (inhibition, apathy, and so on).
In addition, these emotional and behavioral symptoms will further amplify the person’s negative thoughts. But Beck doesn’t ignore the fact that there are also important genetic, personal, and hormonal factors, among other things, that influence the way a person processes information.