Depression is not new to humankind; some form of the illness has always been around, but it was usually a short-lived experience and it served a particular purpose. Hunter-gatherer bands needed a few individuals to be depressed, and thus submissive, at any one time to maintain equilibrium and to prevent conflict. Depression was also a way of coping with loss, forcing members of the band to stop struggling against the situation and thus finally accept it. But this was mostly reactive depression and very different from what we experience now. Today’s depression is a pandemic, needlessly clutching at victims in all societies throughout the world.
Thirty percent of women, 46 percent of teenagers, and 10 percent of all people in developed countries suffer from depression. This condition also underlies many of our most prevalent illnesses.
Depression involves a slowing down of some mental activity, especially in the prefrontal cortex of the brain—the command and control center. It is characterized by pervasive pessimism, hopeless thoughts, inability to experience pleasure, disjointed sleep and perhaps eating patterns, unpleasant dreams, dissociative episodes (in some people), an inability to concentrate, dysfunctional body patterns, and physical illness. This much is agreed. Controversy and misinformation creep in when you look at what falls under the category of depression and what causes it.
Depression is the most researched and, perhaps, least understood of all psychiatric illnesses. Researchers point to a whole range of disorders that are associated with depression, although there is heated debate about where one disorder begins and another ends, and whether they are really separate at all. General anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder (manic depression), social anxiety disorder, various dissociative disorders,11 post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder are just a few.
We believe that many of these conditions are part of the same family of disorders. They are all different expressions of the depression spectrum. Depression can also take the form of “physical” illness in a process known as somatization.
Depression is cyclical by nature. It comes and goes, though the bouts may last longer as the sufferer gets older until it may seem constant. It can also cycle between different expressions of the disorder. Depressed people might alternate between “depression” and “anxiety” or even “depression” and “physical illness.” Some people experience occasional bouts of major depression and others a seemingly constant low-level form of the illness called dysthymia. Still others are plagued by a mixture of the two.
What we do know is that many of the conditions associated with depression have similar root causes in childhood experience, brain development, and, perhaps, genetic predisposition. The causal relation between these factors is complex, and the emerging research has profound implications for those seeking to rid themselves or others from depression and related problems.
(extracted from) Creating Optimism: A Proven, 7-Step Program for Overcoming Depression, Based on the popular Uplift program, written by Bob Murray Ph. D., and Alicia Fortinberry, published by Mcgraw-Hill