Depression and What You Think

Did you know that the saying, “You are what you think” is closer to the truth than many people might care to believe?

Depression has a lot to do with what you think, that is, what you tell yourself about yourself and about life’s incidents, problems, and even life’s bonuses. What you tell yourself impacts your feelings, your mood, your behavior and sometimes even your health. “But,” you say, “sometimes life really does stink.” Yes, but the reality is, how you interpret those “rotten” things in life is what determines your mood, emotions and subsequent behavior. Two people can have the same initial emotional reaction to a loss: sad, lonely, even angry. One person allows herself to experience those emotions but also tells herself, “Life will go on; I will be OK in the long run; a better day is ahead.” The other person attach’s negative, self-putative or self-debasing beliefs to the loss, such as, “I cannot go on. The loss was my fault, it is because I am worthless and unworthy. Life will never be good again.” This kind of negative thinking can be rooted in one’s family biology or be learned through observation of parents, family or even peers. A person who is depressed experiences these negative thoughts as something they cannot control.

Depression is a mood state that causes people varying degrees of distress. Depression, when it become more entrenched and severe is diagnosed as a Clinical Depression (Major Depressive Disorder, Bi-Polar Disorder or Dysthymia). Clinical Depression causes tremendous physical and emotional pain. It is a relatively common mental health issue. In the United States, National Institute of Mental Health studies show that depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year. Some experts in the field now say that everyone will eventually be affected by depression, either their own or that of someone they are close to. It doesn’t take much effort to see that getting a grip on how we think is critically important.

So, how exactly do those nasty negative thoughts connect with depression? Negative thoughts, as related to depression, are generally reflected in one of three areas: negative view of self, negative view of the world and negative view of the future. These constitute what Beck, the founder of Cognitive Therapy, called the “cognitive triad.” The goal is to identify the specific negative thoughts that lead to negative emotion. Once identified the objective then is to identify what about those thoughts is irrational. Only then can a person learn to reject the distorted thoughts and replace them with more realistic alternative thoughts.

All in all, the idea of negative thoughts impacting emotions and behavior may not sound too complicated but the process of unmasking them, sorting out the rational from the irrational and learning to replace them with healthier thoughts is generally a bit too much to take on by oneself. The negative thought pattern is often fairly automatic and self-perpetuating. Professional help is often called for. Therapists specially trained to help with this approach to depression treatment are called Cognitive Therapists (CT) or Cognitive Behavioral (CBT) Therapists. A CT or CBT therapist and the client work together as a team to identify problematic thinking and ways to overcome their depression through changing their thinking and subsequent emotional responses and Behaviors.

Negative thinking alone may not be the full cause of someone’s depression. Depression can be caused by factors such as biological changes and catastrophic events. However, once depression has set in, regardless of whatever the initial cause, one common factor is negative thinking. Depressed people see themselves, the world and the future in a predominantly negative manner. They view themselves negatively and see their future as bleak. Cognitive therapy is a treatment that helps people identify and correct negative ways of thinking, telling themselves more realistic, honest and even hopeful truths about themselves and life. With practice these new ways of thinking can become healthy habits and the impact of depression is greatly reduced.

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