Research Reveals New Insights About Depression

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By Dr. David Cannon

In the psychological literature during the last 30 years, there have been over 54,000 abstracts containing the key word “depression, over 41,000 naming “anxiety,” but only around 400 mentioning “joy.” Clearly, the bulk of the research that has examined emotional problems has focused largely on what has been “wrong” with people. In short, find the problem and fix it. Recent evidence suggests that psychology may be turning in a new direction that concentrates more on understanding and building people’s strengths, including qualities such as optimism, perseverance and love.

Researchers in the field of depression increasingly believe that we’ve been largely off course in our understanding of depression. They feel that only a small minority of the approximately 18 million people diagnosed with depression actually suffers from a biological form of the disorder. Current scientific evidence suggests that what we’ve seen as a symptom of depression — unrealistically negative thinking — is actually the disease itself. Not surprisingly, much of the research on treating depression has centered on ways to modify patterns of negative thinking.

Some researchers believe that psychology has failed to fulfill one of its primary missions, the optimization of life. For example, a therapist might teach a couple to fight constructively and thereby change a bad marriage into a workable one. Generally, however, the question of how to make the marriage sublime has not been addressed. Many current thinkers in the field emphasize the teaching of learned optimism or how to maximize happiness and good — a step they feel would do much to prevent depression.

There is scientific evidence that optimists are more able to see problems as challenges that they can face, and that can bring out the best in them. Optimists also live more healthful lives in that they tend not to smoke, drink or eat in unhealthy ways. Research has shown that children trained in how to deal more effectively with setbacks are subsequently far less prone to develop depression as adults.

Positive individuals have been shown to be far more resilient than their more pessimistic peers. The optimists’ success does not come from their adopting a mindless, forced mode of “positive thinking” that leads them to cheerily declare that everything’s just great all the time. The key to their success appears to be that while they do recognize problems, they avoid turning them into catastrophes. They are therefore better able to bounce back from physical and emotional stress than others.

While this research continues, there are several steps you can take to give your life a more positive tone. First, try as best as you can to make your work enjoyable and fulfilling. Second, when troubled, try and focus your mind on something positive such as an area of your life that is going okay. Third, bring as much humor into your life as possible. Finding some humor in a problem often removes much of its sting.

Finally, give to others. Research at the University of Virginia has demonstrated that seeing someone else doing a good deed causes people to experience a sense of “elevation.” This feeling makes people feel more open and loving toward others, and more likely to do helpful and positive things themselves.

Remember that while the human mind is a marvelous computer, it generally isn’t “user-friendly.” Should your problems persist, don’t hesitate to seek out the help of a qualified mental health professional.

Dr. David Cannon is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Clemson.

Published on June 5, 2008 at 3:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

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