Depression & Sadness

Depression is the prolonged and deep feeling of sadness and loss in which people often feel hopeless about the future

Statistics suggest that one in two people are likely to experience feelings of depression at some point in their lifetimes, whether that be on the mild side or more significant.

So, if 50% of the population are likely to have these feelings it would suggest that not only is depression incredibly common, but it also suggests that depression is a completely normal human emotion.

If depression is NOT normal, then half the population the Earth (about 3.25 billion people) are, according to the bio-medical model of depression, mentally ill, which seems rather a far-fetched idea.

It is not our intention to diminish or play down how severe and debilitating feelings of depression can be for some people but we do, along with many others working in the field of psychology, argue against the assertion that the causes of depression are some sort of brain disease or illness (Read this BBC article on the unhelpful aspects of modelling depression as a brain chemistry problem).

The Chemical Imbalance Theory is Bad Science

To date, there has NEVER been any convincing scientific evidence that depression is CAUSED by faulty brain biology in people.

What has been established using MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and other scientific methods, is that when people feel depressed, that some people’s brains have relatively low levels of Serotonin in the Cerebo Spinal Fluid (CSF).

However, there is no evidence that depression is CAUSED by a low level of Serotonin, only that it can be seen in people who feel depressed. In other words, reduced levels of Serotonin are a consequence of feeling depressed.

If we were to use the bio-medical explanation of depression to explain feelings of ‘happiness’ then the bio-medical model would argue that ‘excessive’ Dopamine (the so-called ‘happy chemical’) in the brain causes people to feel happy.

What really happens, of course, is that when people feel happy they produce more Dopamine, in other words, elevated levels of Dopamine are a consequnce of feeling happy!

As psychologists, we believe that the interpretation of experiences (the meanings attributed to experiences) is what leads to feelings of depression or happiness and not the inexplicable imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain.

So, What ‘Causes’ Variable Levels of Dopamine and Serotonin?

What actually happens to cause the release of dopamine is that when human beings (and animals too) approach a goal (whatever that goal might be) that dopamine is released into the system which reinforces that steps that were taken in order to get to that goal (Find out more here: Psychology Today & Happy Chemicals).

We feel good as a result of achieving goals because achieving them causes the release of dopamine NOT the other way around.

WE don’t have a faulty release of dopamine and then feel inexplicably happy, dopamine release is the result of ‘appraising’ (a conscious cognitive process) a goal-oriented event.

The same is true with regards to serotonin which is released into the system when we feel confident and socially connected and less so when we feel low and isolated.

People do not, as a general rule, simply feel depressed (or indeed happy) without any meaningful reason to feel so.

People almost always feel depressed ABOUT something and always in accordance to core beliefs and personal histories.

It follows, therefore, that lower levels of serotonin are linked to low self-confidence, low self-esteem and/or a lack of social connection and support.

Cognitive Maintenance of Depression

Aaron Beck, widely regarded as the ‘father’ of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), proposed that some people are vulnerable to depression as a result of negative assumptions and evaluations experienced during childhood formative years.

Beck argued that these beliefs may be dormant for many years until such time as they are re-activated by some critical incident (that is somehow representative of the earlier experiences) in later life at which point a steady stream of associated negative thoughts might be unleashed leading to feeling of depression.

In this sense, depression can be thought of as a set of evaluative beliefs related to past events that are being experienced in the current context.

In other words, the current circumstances may be reminiscent of past experiences and trigger the same emotional experiences.

People suffering depression tend to demonstrate similar ‘themes’ in their thinking, evaluations and assumptions to include ideas such as:

Critical thoughts & self-evaluations

  • ‘I’m an idiot.’
  • ‘Nobody cares about me.’
  • ‘I’m rotten to the core.’
  • ‘I always get it wrong.’
  • ‘I’m worthless.’

A bleak and negative view of others and the world in general

  • ‘People will always let you down.’
  • ‘The world is a horrible place.’
  • ‘People only care about themselves.’
  • ‘I’m incredibly unlucky.’

Pessimism and helplessness about the future

  • ‘Nothing good lasts forever.’
  • ‘There’s no point in trying to feel better as I am bound to fail.’
  • ‘’I’m always going to feel like this.’

When we consider all of this negativity and self-deprecation, it’s hardly surprising that people who feel depressed see little chance of improvement or that the future is likely to get any better.

Behavioural Maintenance of Depression

As human beings, our minds affect our bodies and our bodies affect our minds and so behaviours can reinforce the unhelpful cognition associated with feeling depressed (the relationship between mind and body or cognition and behaviour works in both directions).

Withdrawal and inactivity are two of most significant behavioural factors in the maintenance of depression (those discussed above are cognitive maintaining factors).

Unfortunately, due to the nature of depression, these two behaviours seem like the ‘natural’ and ‘logical’ things to do and yet they keep sufferers in a negative cycle of isolation and low mood that give rise to more feelings of isolation and low mood!

Because depression can leave people feeling fatigued, they may be tempted to spend longer in bed trying to recuperate (inactivity).

However, remaining in bed usually only leads to more inactivity and even less energy to do things.

Also, a lack of willingness to engage in meaningful conversations with friends is based on a belief that they may somehow be a burden to others, and therefore keeping ‘themselves to themselves’ may be seen as a good idea.

The problem with a strategy like this though is that the less a person does and the fewer people that they engage with, the less pleasure and satisfaction they are likely to get out of life, the less supported they are going to feel and the more their problems are going to pile up in their minds.

Withdrawing from social interaction and remaining inactive can only lead to increasing levels of loneliness and more depressed feelings.

Overcoming Sadness and Depression

Don’t forget that feelings of sadness are perfectly normal reactions to loss and so in many cases, it is appropriate and understandable when people do.

Research indicates that depression tends to diminish in proportion to time, so the longer it has been since the event that gave rise to these feelings, the less pervasive the feelings are likely to be.

Unfortunately some people find it very difficult to come to terms with loss and it may seem that the feelings of sadness never diminish. This often depends on the nature and scale of the loss and the life history of the person suffering.

For these people we recommend following a course of psychosocial counselling which is designed to help the sufferer make sense of their feelings with respect to what has happened to them during their lives and the gain new perspectives and develop better coping skills.

The therapy relationship that is created as part of the process of psychotherapy provides clients with a safe and non-judgmental relationship that aids recovery.

The CORE Programme

The CORE Programme was devised and written by Paul in 2020 and combines all the best elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with additional knowledge drawn from research in Personal Construct Theory, Attribution Theory, Self-Determination Theory and Social Constructivism.

Cognitive-based interventions have a good track record with sadness and depression and more so when they are utilised from a psychosocial perspective.

It is a 10 module course normally taken over a 10 week period with weekly hour long counselling sessions (either face-to-face or using Zoom), but can also be followed as a ‘teach yourself’ course for those with more manageable levels of depression.

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Ready to Begin a New Journey?

If you’d like to find out more about overcoming or recovering from your emotional distress or mental health difficulties then why not arrange a free initial consultation with us.

During this consultation we will discuss your particular problems and the potential solutions in a safe and confidential environment without you having to commit to any counselling programmes or sessions going forward.

It is our view that not only do you need to decide whether the Lee Psychology approach suits who you are and what you have been through, but also whether or not you feel you will be able to work effectively with us as individuals.

To arrange your free initial consultation please contact: