Part 1 of a Depression Biopsychosocial-Spiritual Perspective Series
Depression is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. Anytime from your favorite team’s crushing defeat in a national championship, to the loss of a loved one, to a period in which you just cannot seem to get going at all – you might be feeling depressed. Clinicians understand Depression, or Major Depressive Disorder, as a mental illness characterized by hallmark symptoms such as a prolonged sad mood and/or a lack of interest and pleasure. However, did you know that abnormal weight change, disrupted sleep (either too much or too little), and a lack of ability to concentrate can also be symptoms? However, my purpose in this article is not to define depression from a medical standpoint, but to illustrate how depression can affect you in a variety of ways.
A Biopsychosocial-Spiritual Perspective on Depression
As human beings, we can address our lives from multiple perspectives. A jargony word that gets thrown around in the mental health field is the “biopsychosocial” perspective, with Christian and other counselors adding “spiritual” to the end of it. This biopsychosocial-spiritual perspective implies that each and every person has internal biological occurrences, psychological processes that affect their thoughts and emotions, exists in a realm of social circles, and also lives a spiritual life. If this is true, then depression should, and does, affect us in all of these realms. However, it also means that depression can be tackled from a variety of different angles.
You have probably seen the commercial for drugs which are often used for depression — in the commercial little dots float from one two-dimensional knob to another, but not enough. These commercials are trying to illustrate a possible cause of depression, which is that certain neurotransmitters are lacking in the brain, and ultimately cause a decrease in mood and depression. While this is one biological element of depression, there are also others. For example, weight loss or increase that results from a change of appetite is very common in people suffering from depression. Another way in which depression can affect you is by disrupting your sleep, creating a vicious cycle in which you become too tired to feel motivated to work on things that could alleviate your depression.
Treatment in this realm is often pharmacological. There is a host of medications that attempt to regulate the neurotransmitters. Since the proliferation of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs – a long and confusing name that means they help serotonin to stay in your system), many people have been able to overcome the hurdle of their depression. However, depression is sometimes unresponsive to any medication, and this could be caused by another biological problem, namely, hypothyroidism. Many people go misdiagnosed and bounce from one antidepressant to another, while the problem is actually an under performing thyroid. For these reasons, the treatment of depression should involve a doctor who understands the complexity of depression and its multiple possible biological underpinnings.
For many people, the way in which depression affects their thoughts and moods may be the most salient identifier that something is “wrong” with them. While depression often looks like sadness and a lack of motivation, the stigmas associated with depression may also increase feelings of guilt and shame. Although approximately 15 million Americans suffer from a depressive episode every year, with even higher lifetime rates, depression is still often misunderstood and reaching out for help can be seen as a moral failure or a sign of weakness. However, I believe that it is a sign of great strength and the first step in recovery to be able to overcome the stigma and seek treatment. Nonetheless, millions suffer silently, and shame and guilt having a compounding effect on the sadness and lack of motivation already experienced.
Therapy can be most effective in the psychological realm. Furthermore, there is considerable evidence that depression is best treated with a combination of both medication and talk therapy. While therapy can look different depending on the client and the therapist, you might expect your therapist to help you to explore the underlying thoughts and emotions that are holding you back from improving. In addition, some therapists might encourage you to try certain activities from week to week in order to try to cut through the fog of depression that you presently find yourself in.
Christian Counseling to Overcome Depression
In the following article, I will explore how depression affects the social and spiritual realms and what treatment options are available in these realms. In the meantime, if you are struggling with depression, Christian counseling can provide a safe space in which to address how depression is affecting your life and to look at your options for dealing with it.
Both photos from unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License:
“Woman in Black,” courtesy of Volkan Olmez
“Seeing the Light,” courtesy of Joshua Sortino