Depression affects nearly 20% of high school students at some point. People who are depressed experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, lack of interest in activities they used to like, lack of motivation, poor sleep, lack of energy, changes in appetite, and thoughts of self-harm or that they would be better off dead. People who are depressed often have difficulty with concentration and make poor decisions.
Depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and/or because of difficult life circumstances such as divorce of parents, trauma, dealing with a difficult chronic illness, feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork or being rejected by friends. Paradoxically, depression can be helpful by causing patients to “shut down” at the point when they can no longer deal with their stressors, and thereafter they can feel less affected by them. This may be the reason that when anti-depressants are prescribed to adolescents, they sometimes become more suicidal, because the medication allows them to more fully consider the predicament in which they may find themselves.
Negative Self-Talk Can Deepen Depression
People who are depressed often engage in negative self-talk that helps perpetuate their depression. It is possible that in addition to its psychological effects, such negative thinking leads to development or perpetuation of a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes further depression.
Depressed individuals tend to generalize and catastrophize events in their life, and to take things personally. For example, a teenager rejected by a friend may feel that now all of their friends will reject them (generalization), that they will be lonely forever (catastrophe), and this is the result of having personal flaws that prevent them from making or keeping friends (self-blame). A child whose parents divorced may feel that they can never trust anyone (generalization), that they will never have a good family life again (catastrophe), and that it is their fault the parents were divorced (self-blame). Contrast this type of thinking with that of a child with a healthier attitude: My rejection by the friend reflected a problem that this one friend has with me, it is a good thing that I have many other friends, and in time my friend might like me again because I am a likeable person.
Approaches for Treatment of Depression
Treatment for depression includes getting plenty of exercise, exposure to sunlight, plenty of sleep, and a balanced diet. Supplementation with Vitamin D can be helpful. Anti-depressants sometimes can be helpful when psychotherapy is not sufficient. That being said studies have shown that prescription anti-depressants often have only slightly better effectiveness than placebos (sugar pills). Further, patients with depression can improve when they are told that they are being given a placebo that has helped others. This placebo effect may be the reason that alternative treatments for depression are sometimes thought to be helpful, such as herbs, recreational drugs, or even chocolate.
Hypnosis and counseling can be very helpful in alleviating the parts of depression that are caused by negative thought patterns. Patients can be counseled to think about how they would like to feel better, rather than about how poorly they feel at present. They are taught that while they often cannot control their circumstances, they can learn to control how they react to life events, including through use of hypnotic self-calming techniques. They can be taught how they can use a hypnotic state to imagine a future in which they are no longer depressed, and then consider what steps they need to take in order to achieve that future.
Take Home Message
Hypnosis can play an important role in helping patients achieve a sense of control in dealing with depression. Such empowerment provides patients with an additional tool in overcoming their mental illness.
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