The ups and downs of life are common and normal, and most people recover relatively quickly from an upsetting life event, such as the loss of a job, a bereavement or the end of a relationship. It is normal to experience a sense of loss and mild depression after such an event. Some experts, eg Dr Paul Andrews, an evolutionary psychologist, believe that the symptoms of depression (tiredness, poor appetite, low motivation, withdrawal from social contact) may actually be mechanisms for coping with stress; our bodies are ensuring that we avoid further stress, thereby giving us the space to resolve our problems.
However, sometimes depression is more severe and persistent. The causes of such depression are complex. It may be triggered by a combination of factors or events, such as multiple distressing events in a short space of time, or experiencing a trauma when recovering from an illness. Physical, genetic, biological and spiritual factors may also play a part in depression, as can personality and earlier life events.
Antidepressants have their place in helping with depression, but are not as effective as we might like to think; the Royal College of Psychiatry estimates that between 50% and 65% of people treated with an antidepressant for depression will benefit. Furthermore, when we rely completely on drugs to relieve the symptoms of depression, we may be interfering with our natural inclination to learn and grow through facing life’s problems. The truth is that there is no quick fix that enables us to fulfil our true potential as human beings.
If you are experiencing sadness or low mood that won’t go away, and you’re noticing a distinct loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy, particularly if your symptoms are getting in the way of normal day-to-day activities, you may want to consider counselling. Counselling can help you to gain insight into the causes of your depression. In a confidential space, you can express the thoughts and feelings you are unable to express elsewhere, without fear of being judged. As you experience your therapist’s non-judgmental attitude, you gradually become more accepting and compassionate towards yourself, and learn new ways of thinking, more effective coping mechanisms and improved problem-solving skills.
Counselling is not a quick fix, but if you are willing to commit to engaging with the process for as long as it takes, you will gain insights and tools which will help you to handle emotions and approach life’s difficulties in more constructive ways.