Depressive thinking

Everyone knows depression involves feelings of sadness and a low mood that last longer than a normal bout of the blues and persists regardless of life circumstances.

In addition to the low mood there are many other physical and psychological symptoms associated with depression, which I have highlighted in several past articles.

Negative thinking patterns are also associated with depression and this may be somewhat less obvious to people without a direct relationship with someone who is depressed.

When in the throes of an episode of depression, people tend to be pessimistic, overly sensitive and view everything very negatively. Further, a depressed individual distorts or misinterprets their environment, if there are two ways of viewing a situation, the depressed individual usually picks the most negative.

An example of a common pattern in depressive thinking follows like this: 'if someone disagrees with me, they don't like me. If a particular person doesn't like me, no one likes me. If I am not liked, I am a bad or worthless person. If I am worthless, my family would be better off without me.'

Obviously, negative thought patterns like this are not helpful to the depressed state in general. Depressed thoughts and pessimism lead to the trademark feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness.

Early life experiences such as parental loss in childhood can predispose an individual to this kind of thinking, which can be triggered by distressing events or loss in later life. With each event and subsequent depression, it takes progressively less severe stress or loss to set off a depression.

Genetic vulnerability also plays a role since we are not all equally affected by early life experiences. Studies have shown that individuals with a genetic predisposition to depression are also more readily affected by loss or stress and this leads to the kind of negative thinking discussed above.

Within the brain, the amygdala is associated with the evaluation and processing of emotionally charged events. Among individuals predisposed to depression, this region is hyper-reactive and this is the biological reason behind this depressive thinking. Abnormally high reaction in the amygdala leads in turn to the excessive secretion of the stress hormone cortisol.

In addition to increased activity in the amygdala, depressed individuals have decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain involved in intellectual re-evaluation of emotional responses. Lower activity in this area reduces the depressed person's ability to evaluate negative thoughts and come to a more rational conclusion.

For these reasons, it is easy to see how cognitive therapy and medication can work hand in hand to treat depression. Therapy is focused on strengthening the weakened ability to think rationally about negative thoughts while medication quietens the amygdala and activates the prefrontal cortex. Together, these can tackle the same problem in different ways to produce the best result, a return to adaptive thinking and remission of mood symptoms.

Okanagan Clinical Trials currently has ongoing studies in depression. If you are an adult experiencing depression, you may be eligible to participate. Contact our office for more information.


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