DISCREPANCY BASED PROCESSING
Our mind makes sense of the world by analysing a situation for what it is, versus how we would like them to be or how we think they should be. This detection of the difference is called “Discrepancy based processing”. It helps our survival, but in our mental world it creates a constant sense of lack and takes away our capacity for seeing things clearly. We cannot always hold a balanced view of both the good and bad in each situation, rather we tend to focus on what needs to change for it to match our ideal imagined version of it. The greater the discrepancy, the greater the discomfort.
With mindfulness we can understand the reality of our situation better by having a more balanced perspective on things. Remembering that this negativity bias of focusing more on the lack than the have, is a common evolutionary trait that helped our survival. It serves a very useful purpose but when overused it causes us great harm in our mental world by creating and sustaining depression.
CHEMICAL THEORY OF DEPRESSION
Depression has long been widely understood scientifically as a chemical imbalance in the brain either due to genetics or experience or a combination of both. Viewing it as a chemical problem made it easier to treat with medication and the pharmaceuticals benefited from it. Although in some cases the cause may be a chemical imbalance, it has been shown that psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy works as well or better than the leading medications for depression. A recent study at Harvard's McLean Hospital suggests that using a language of chemical imbalances seem to worsen patient outcomes. The wide-spread and overused approach of chemical explanations of mental health actually benefits pharmaceutical companies far more effectively than it does the actual patients. Another reason for this is that the stigma of mental health diagnosis can be softened by medicalizing it as a chemical imbalance or inherited conditions. When a person falls sick with a physical illness we never think or say they are of poor constitution and that’s why they have developed this illness but with our mental condition we have to take responsibility for how we react to adversities. It is thought of as a test of character when it comes to the mind. Medicalizing a mental condition as a chemical imbalance may take away personal responsibility but it also undermines the patient’s ability to have effective control over their own mind and experience.
"More recent studies indicate that participants who are told that their depression is caused by a chemical imbalance or genetic abnormality expect to have depression for a longer period, report more depressive symptoms, and feel they have less control over their negative emotions"
THE TEAM AT MCLEAN
DEALING WITH DEPRESSION
Depression leads to lowered self- esteem, increased guilt and fear, interrupted social interactions and undermined self-actualization. Everyone experiences sadness, suffering and loss but we need to be mindful of when depressed mental states become engrained in an unhealthy way leading to illness and additional suffering. There are real life circumstances that cause depression. We do our best to take care of our circumstances, given the constraints of reality, but internally we also need to have a strategy for our mental safety and wellbeing.
In cognitive therapy it is recognised that persistent recurring negative thoughts can themselves create and perpetuate depression. A recognition and eventual change in our negative thought patterns can lead to a way out of a depression. We know from studies in neuroplasticity that changes in the brain’s chemical functioning and even structural changes are possible from sustained mental and behavioural changes in life. Our changes in perspective lead to changes in behavioural patterns and a qualitative shift in how negative events are experienced and handled.
The best way to help a person with depression is to make them feel that they have the power to make a change in their condition. To encourage the possibility of healing and nourish the path of overcoming, without making them feel guilty that they have failed mentally in some way because they suffer from depression. How we respond to a person facing difficulty or anxiety has a huge impact on how they themselves respond to it and that dictates the outcome more than anything else.