Depression affects a significant portion of the population. It is estimated that 7-12% of men and 20-25% of women will have a major depressive episode at some point in their life.
Depressive disorders consist of a variety of symptoms in the areas of mood, thinking, behaviors and physical reactions. Mood related symptoms include sadness, irritability, depression and anger. Many depressed people are also anxious and nervous. When we are depressed our thinking is characterized by negative thoughts about ourselves (self criticism), negative thoughts about the future and negative interpretations/ thinking about ongoing events in our lives. When we are depressed our beliefs are characterized by negativity as well. For example, we may believe:
- “I’m a failure”
- “I’m no good”
- “I’m unlovable”
The behavioral symptoms of depression include withdrawal, avoidance of other people, and not doing activities that in the past gave us a sense of pleasure or mastery.
The physical symptoms of depression include tiredness, fatigue and insomnia. Additionally, depression is associated with an alteration in brain chemistry.
These four areas (mood, thinking, behavior and physical functioning) of our functioning interact and affect each other. When there is a change or alteration in any one of these areas the other three areas change in response. For example, changes in brain chemistry (anti-depressant medication) may lead to changes in mood, thinking and behavior. Similarly, enduring changes in thinking create enduring changes in mood and behavior. Finally, changes in behavior result in changes in thinking, brain chemistry and mood.
Cognitive therapy is a form of psychotherapy that has been demonstrated to be very effective in the treatment of depression. Cognitive is a fancy word that refers to thoughts or beliefs. Cognitive therapy is an active, structured, directive form of therapy that focuses on the thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that accompany depressive disorders. In cognitive therapy, clients learn to identify, evaluate and change the thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that accompany depression. This usually leads to a significant reduction in depression symptoms – often in a brief period of time.
Learning to consistently think in newer and more adaptive ways can lead to less frequent and severe symptoms of depression. Many people report that this process leads to greater amounts of meaning, satisfaction and happiness in their lives.
Research consistently shows that 70 to 80 percent of people with depression improve with cognitive therapy. Additionally, patients receiving cognitive therapy or cognitive therapy along with anti depressant medications have a lower relapse rate (reoccurrence of the depression) than patients that are treated with anti depressant medications alone.