Depression: An Equal Opportunity Destroyer


Depression: An Equal Opportunity: How to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones From Depression

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D., Indiana University Professor Emeritus of Psychology

Behavioral Psychological Family Services

Why ProfessionalEvaluation and Treatment is Essential

There are many reasons why people suffering from depression need a professional evaluation and treatment. As we will discuss, the depressed person will be incapacitated in ways that impair their ability to maintain social, love, family, and vocational
relationships. It can also destroy their health. What is less obvious, however, is that depression is highly contagious. It negatively affects others who are in contact with the depressed person in many complex ways.

From a Pavlovian perspective, the damaging symptoms of depression are repeatedly associated with
the depressed person’s image, voice, mannerisms and other actions
. Depression is aversive (unpleasant) to others
associated with the depressed person. So, over time, the presence of the depressed person causes negative feelings in those exposed to him or her; toward him or her…even if the depressed person is trying to change their ways. This is a big and dangerous disadvantage to try to overcome without help.

Depression can cause people to be intensely drawn to things that make them feel better. These are often the behaviors that lead to intense feelings (drugs, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, sexual and vicarious activities such as sports and pornography). Depression normally kills sexual desire for one’s partner. With major depression the sex drive is often one of the first things to go and it is one of the last to come back, but with proper treatment it can come back.

Depression affects family members because, while the depressed person is coping with depression and doing
things that make them feel better, they often spend less and less time giving loving and caring support and involvement to their families.
  This not only affects the spouse, but the children feel it too, and they can all reflect this
influence in bad ways. Spouses move away emotionally and children begin to do whatever it takes to gain the attention and support that they need from their unavailable and/or depressed parents. Often times children fail to gain attention using positive methods, so they begin to misbehave. Bad behavior in children usually will cause the depressed parent to “come out of their shell” with anger and punishment, often lashing out, out-of-proportion to
the problem.
Children would rather be abused than ignored, so they behave badly more and the depressed parent abuses more and this becomes a vicious destructive downward cycle (declining grades, dropping-out of school and
sports, drugs, delinquent behavior, and alienation from parents). Many of these problems relate to operant conditioning. For example, depressed parents may spend a lot of time criticizing and yelling at their children’s bad behavior. They often think they are “punishing” the behavior when they are actually positively reinforcing it. In this way,
parents often teach their children to do the bad behaviors they wish to diminish.

Parents are strong models for children to imitate. All of the depressed symptoms that a parent shows are in great danger of being imitated by them (anger, withdrawal, addictions, excitement craving, etc.)

The problems that are worsened in children as a result of parental depression then increase the level
of stress on the marriage in the form of further arguments about child related problems.
If the depressed person overreacts in discipline it is common for the other parent to become a protector rather than a partner in sensible discipline strategies. This resultsin more arguing/fighting between the parents.  The children often then learn that when there is fighting between theparents, they are in charge and not the parents. It can become an unconscious, or a conscious, strategy that children can over-learn as a way to divide and neutralize parental authority and gain their own forms immature and destructive control in these situations. Kids are not evil. Even normal, formerly well-behaved children, can quickly learn to exploit the weaknesses cause by parental depression. All of this further poisons the marriage.

If untreated, this very complicated depression contagion can destroy relationships. Sadly, and
mistakenly, the people involved simply think they have “fallen out of love” with each other.  Most often, they did
not fall out of love!  Depression destroyed the feelings of love that they once had for each other. It is a
tragedy that, for some, this relationship damage can get to the point-of-no-return pretty quickly.

With the rapid detection of depression and effective treatment, the destruction of families can be avoided.
With hard work and dedication, even badly damaged families can recover
.

Depression can destroy health

The corticosteroids associated with chronic stress (relationships, work or the lack of work, financial problems and the economy, etc.) eat up norepinephrine and serotonin which, when low, appear to lead to symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, corticosteroids, when present in increased amounts for long periods of time then also weaken the immune system. This lays the depressed individual open to nagging sickness and perhaps even the bigger health problems (heart disease and cancer, etc.). Also, the many bad feelings and bad social and vocational outcomes associated with depression can lead to suicidal thinking and actions. Depression which derives from chronic stress and resulting chemistry changes in one’s body
qualifies as a disease. It is a host of fundamental biological changes that destroy the health and/or welfare of the person who has it, and through social interaction, these damaging influences are passed on to those around them. For this reason it is appropriate to call depression  contagious, whether it is a learned behavior pattern or a biochemical disease.

Fortunately, Depression is a Very Treatable Disease.

The facts are that there are several things that people can do to help themselves with mild to moderate depression (exercise, eating right, reducing stress, avoiding drugs and alcohol, relaxation/meditation, and thinking positive, etc), but with major depression medication is a very important ingredient to success. Try as they may most people in a deep clinical depression simply cannot pull themselves out of it. They may come-out of it naturally after an extended
time, but by then they often have done great damage to their family, friends, and vocations because of their failure to attack and manage their depression. No matter how strong the depressed person is, their spouse, children and others may not be able to “ride out the storm”.

For those who will make war on their depression and attack it with all of their might, and with medical technology if necessary, there is reason to hope for a good outcome.

There are several kinds of depression but they have many symptoms in common. It is very important that you learn to recognize what depression looks like in yourself and others and to understand how it feels to be depressed. The benefits of this knowledge to you and your loved ones will be many:

You can identify basic early warning signs in yourself and loved ones and catch depression before it damages
precious relationships.

You can be more understanding and supportive of those who suffer from depression.

You will know the reasons why it is important to get professional assistance early when depression
strikes.

You will know some of the things to say to help people overcome their reluctance to get professional help for
their depression.

You may be able to prevent educational failure, job loss, or the destruction of a marriage or other loving
relationships caused by depression.

You may be able to prevent the problems of drug or alcohol abuse (or other addictions) that are often
associated with depression.

You may be able to prevent the child and adolescent problems associated with parental depression such as
oppositional/ defiant behavior, school under-achievement and discipline problems, dropping out, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual acting out, juvenile delinquency, child/adolescent depression, and suicidal thinking or actions.

You may be able to prevent a suicide and the damage that it can cause within families, through
generations.

Depression is highly contagious. You may be able to prevent the spread of the negative effects of
your depression to family members and other loved ones.

Sooner or later,  you will need this information for yourself, a loved one or a friend. This knowledge is an essential tool for success in modern life.

It is a fact that around the world,  in all developing societies, depression and anxiety disorders are increasing in rate
of occurrence. Researchers speculate that causes may be increasing population density, mobility, the complex demands of living with technology, the splitting up of families, and more. Whatever the factors are, increasing rates of
depression in our lives is a fact of life and to know its signs and what to do about it is a modern-life survival tool that we all need to have.

The Symptoms of Depression in Adults

There are many symptoms of depression and an individual may not show all of the symptoms at any one time. Furthermore, the symptoms among adults can be different from those of adolescents.  To complicate things further, the symptoms of adolescents can differ from those of younger children.

It is important to understand that while the symptoms that follow may indicate depression, other physical and psychological disorders can produce some of these symptoms. Therefore, when any of the following symptoms occur with a significant duration or magnitude to cause problems in coping and living, it is essential to obtain a medical examination. If there are no medical problems, or if medical problems are treated but the symptoms of depression persist, I recommend that a Ph.D. level psychologist skilled in Behavior Therapy be consulted for an assessment and possible treatment. 

  • Significantly diminished energy, low motivation. feeling weak and tired
  • Changed sleep patterns: trouble going to sleep, frequent awakening, waking-up in the early morning hours
  • Poor memory, concentration problems
  • Slow, fuzzy or confused thinking
  • Compulsive over-eating with significant weight gain or loss of appetite and significant weight loss
  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness
  • Loss of ability to feel pleasure
  • Social withdrawal/isolation
  • Defensive, peevish, irritable, argumentative
  • Increased temper displays, emotional blow-ups or outbursts
  • Increased anxiety
  • Excessive worry
  • Feelings of guilt, feelings of worthlessness
  • Blaming othersIncreased physical ills (Ill feelings, head aches, back aches, other pains or physical problems)
  • Loss of patience
  • Hopelessness
  • Tearfulness
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide plans or attempts
  • Marital problems

The bright side!

 Depression is one of the most common and easily treated problems. It normally takes several weeks to feel the good effects. Sometimes people begin to feel better right away. This can occur when the depressed person defines their problem clearly, develops a plan to attack it, and then enacts the plan. When the good effects come they normally are:

  • More energy
  • Better sleep
  • Better memory and concentration
  • Clearer thinking
  •  Reduction in over-eating (if that is the problem) or an increase in appetite if that is the problem.
  • More smiles and laughter
  • Less temper displays- fewer blow-ups or outbursts
  • Less anxiety
  • More confidence, relief from feelings of worthlessness
  • Fewer feelings of guilt
  • Less blaming others
  • Fewer bodily ills (head
    aches, other pains)
  • Greater patience
  • Less petty bickering, less blaming others
  • Thoughts of suicide diminish, or disappear (if they were there)
  • More comfortable with self-inspection and self-correction
  • If marriage counseling is needed to recover from the effects of one or two parents in a family becoming depressed, medication normally significantly increases the probability of success.
  • More feelings of affection and understanding towards others

Close to 70% of those who take medication report significant improvement in their symptoms. For those that do not, a different medication (there are many) will normally be helpful.

Individuals usually benefit from 6 mo. to one-year of medication assistance, after which (if they are fortunate) they may never need the medication again. A small percent of depressed individuals may need to be on medication for the rest of
their lives.

When Medication Is Needed, It Should Be Combined With Therapy

Medication alone can be helpful. But, medication plus counseling by a good therapist
increases the odds of a good outcome even more substantially
.
Counseling in the form of Cognitive Therapy
is very effective. It is focused upon how to behave and think in ways that diminish depression, how to repair damages cause by depression, how to avoid future depressions, how to see them coming, and how to respond correctly if and
when depression ever threatens again.

Get help with your depression or that of your loved ones.

For Those With Depression, There Are Good Reasons To Hope That The Best Is Yet To Come!

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