What is depression in psychology

Causes and Triggers

Widespread disease depression (page 4/7)

Research now agrees that depression is triggered and sustained by the interaction of several factors. On the one hand biological and on the other psychological and psychosocial aspects play an important role. For example, stressful life events are more likely to trigger depression if there is an increased sensitivity (so-called vulnerability) to the disease for genetic reasons. The interaction of the various causes in turn has an impact on the therapy of the disease, in which drugs are often combined with psychotherapy.

Biological factors

Both twin studies and studies with families show that genetic factors are important in depression. Children whose father or mother is depressed have a 10 to 15 percent chance of developing depression themselves. However, a hereditary predisposition does not mean that a person inevitably falls ill with depression - because genes and environmental conditions always work together.

Genetic factors, altered
Activity of messenger substances in the brain,
Stress hormones can cause depression
trigger, among other things.

The interaction between genes and the environment can also influence how well someone can deal with stress or how often they enter difficult or risky situations in life. In any case, it is certain that a whole series of genes are involved in depression - there is no simple connection between a gene and the disease. The activity of the messenger substances in the brain - the so-called neurotransmitters - is also influenced by genetic factors. These transmit information to the synapses - the connection points between two nerve fibers in the brain - and thus influence our experience, our feelings and thoughts.

Research has shown that some neurotransmitter systems in the brain are out of balance during depression. This applies in particular to the transmitter systems for the messenger substances serotonin and norepinephrine: Either the neurotransmitters are in too low a concentration or the sensitivity of the receptors on which these messenger substances act is permanently changed. This is exactly where treatment with antidepressant drugs comes in, which aim to normalize the serotonin and norepinephrine metabolism again.

Another form of messenger substance has also been linked to the development of depression: the body's stress hormones. These are released in frightening and dangerous situations and briefly increase tension and alertness - in this way the body is prepared to react quickly and effectively. In people with depression, however, the control system for these stress hormones seems to be disturbed in the long term. For example, increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood and urine of depressed patients could be detected. Animal studies suggest that elevated cortisol levels increase anxiety and affect sleep, appetite, and the ability to concentrate.

Psychological factors

Depression is very often triggered by psychosocial stress: Chronic stress such as permanent overstrain at work or a conflict-ridden partnership, but also stressful life events such as the loss of a partner or severe trauma increase the likelihood of developing depression. Conversely, a lack of positive feelings such as joy or satisfaction can also lead to depression in the long term. This can arise through living conditions, but also through one's own behavior. So someone who can easily make contact with other people also gets more positive feedback than someone who is more reserved and passive.

Chronic stress,
stressful life events
or severe trauma
increase the likelihood
to suffer from depression.

However, there does not always have to be a clear trigger for depression - the disease can break out without any apparent burden. Conversely, many people can cope with severe stress without necessarily suffering from depression.

Theoretical considerations for the development of depression

Several psychological theories deal with how depressive illness develops and is sustained.

So it comes after the Lewinsohn's theory of depression then to depression when someone has only a few amplifiers in his life or loses previous amplifiers. Positive, rewarding consequences of one's own behavior are called reinforcers. A reinforcement loss occurs, for example, when someone loses a loved one, is suddenly fired from their job, or receives little recognition from others for their efforts.

Martin Seligman puts in his Depression model focus on the feeling of helplessness. For example, someone who has experienced a negative event may have had the experience that there is actually nothing they can do. If the person concerned now believes that this is due to himself and cannot be changed in the long term, this gradually leads to so-called learned helplessness: Instead of trying to find a solution to a problem or to improve his life situation, the person now remains passive - and thereby experiences that the unfavorable situation does not actually change.

After this Aaron Beck's cognitive model mental distortions are particularly characteristic of patients with depression. According to this, someone develops negative convictions through stressful life experiences - for example: “The others just want to harm me” or “Something bad happens to me all the time”. These beliefs, in turn, control how someone evaluates themselves and their environment. According to Beck, a person with depression sees himself, the environment and the future negatively. This negative view leads to a distorted view of reality, so that, for example, even small problems are seen as unsolvable.

Theories derived from the psychoanalytic tradition The main causes of depression are negative experiences during childhood. Accordingly, problematic relationships with close caregivers such as parents or siblings in particular lead to the development of a pessimistic view of the world and a negative self-image. Some approaches, such as Heinz Kohut's theory, assume that children in particular who are strongly oriented towards the expectations of their parents and neglect their own needs are particularly at risk for depression later on.