Mental Health Day: New report offers wisdom and compassion about depression

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A University of Liverpool professor, Peter Kinderman, has co-authored a new British Psychological Society report, ‘Understanding Depression’ published today (Friday, 9 October 2020), that offers a psychological perspective on depression clearly and succinctly.

There has probably never been a more important time for us to consider how we understand depression – feelings of misery and worthlessness, lethargy and exhaustion, pessimism and suicidal thoughts – and how we respond. Many of us, especially those who face multiple deprivations, often have high levels of stress, isolation and depression.

As the world is continuing to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the associated lockdowns and the consequent economic recession, there is a vital need to understand how these events, and how people respond to them, can affect psychological wellbeing.

Not a disease

The ‘Understanding Depression’ report states that depression is best thought of as an experience, or a set of experiences, rather than as a disease. For most people, depression is unlikely to be the result of an underlying biological disease process or chemical imbalance in the brain and nervous system. Instead, our report explains how the experience of depression is related to the events and circumstances of a person’s life, both in the past and the present, together with the meaning those events have for them.

The report also highlights how overcoming depression can sometimes be a difficult and slow process. Nevertheless, there are many things which can help. Different things help different people. Often practical things are central such as basic self-care, including eating and sleeping well, as well as help to address the issues that led to the depression or that are keeping it going, physical exercise or therapies of various kinds. Psychological therapies help many people.

Depression and loneliness often go hand in hand, so finding ways to connect or reconnect with our friends, families and communities can be key.

Formulation

The authors stress the importance of health professionals knowing the difference between formulation and diagnosis. Formulation is a joint effort between a service user and a healthcare professional to summarise their difficulties, to explain why they may be happening and make sense of them, and so to suggest what might help.

Recommendations for all care and treatment within mental health services are also contained within the report. These include; all treatments to be guided by individual formulations, developed and refined over time by the professional/s and the person concerned working together.

Common-sense approach

Professor Peter Kinderman, former President of the British Psychological Society, and a co-author of the report, said: “This report, perspective on depression clearly and succinctly. It is humane and compassionate, in that it explains how outlines a distinctive, psychological depression can be an understandable response to life’s pressures. It is practical, in that it offers advice that may well do more than treat the symptoms of depression but may actually address the causes and sources of suffering. It is also empowering; viewing depression in this way means that we can offer help without pathologizing.

“This is a balanced and intelligent analysis, but also a highly readable and common-sense approach to a fundamental human experience”.

The full report can be found here.