Depression and the Bio-Psycho-Social Approach

Biological, Psychological and Sociological Treatment of Depression

Depression is one of the most debilitating of illnesses, which eventually if not treated can cause people to have an extremely poor quality of life, physically, mentally and socially. People may feel quite alone when plagued by symptoms. I want people to understand that this is a common illness that affects millions of people all over the world. The problem with the successful treatment is that educated powerful people continue to view this illness as being a defect in personality; therefore people do not receive treatment.  If there is not adequate treatment of the symptoms, the suffering continues to exist. Who would consider having a heart attack as being an emotional weakness? Most importantly I would just like those reading this report, to understand that people who  suffer from symptoms are most certainly not alone. Successful treatment is available with making just one telephone call. Find someone who uses bio-psycho-social concepts to help you feel better.

A  History of Depression

No one understood this illness well despite the theories, and no one  understood how to treat the symptoms before the 1960’s.  People who felt blah, grouchy, and uninterested in life were told to suck it up, and keep going by just pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. There was no sympathy for this suffering because the pain was not well understood. However, the breakthrough came in the 1970’s when it was noticed that expressing the emotions of anger alleviated some of the suffering. Verbally expressing anger was thought of as being an excellent idea since people felt a sense of relief.  This concept continues to work for some, however, there continues to be many unhappy people walking the earth, even with having the ability to express anger. Let’s take a look inside a history book to understand what fueled the anger and despair of our ancestors:

History of Depression

History of Depression

  • Life inside early century sweatshops.
  • Starvation during the great depression.
  • Slavery and Exploitation of African-Americans, Children, and most Minorities
  • Death and destruction from war in the 1940’s.
  • The restrictions of family life, for women in the 1950’s.
  • General fears during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

There are not many sweatshops left in the world, and discrimination and violence against women and minorities is not nearly as intense today. However, we continue to suffer through a severe period of economic hardship in recent years, and depression is rampant in 2015.  We have adjusted to the loss of life through war which existed before Iraq was invaded, and today war is almost a constant reality.

Causes of Depression

The research explains that there is no single cause, however, there are three key factors that have consistently shown up as playing important roles pertaining to the onset of symptoms. These three factors probably overlap with each other during an episode which is why using treatment approaches based on the biological, psychological and social concepts have the most success. Biological Causes  Depression and GeneticsSome people may be more susceptible to depression given their biological factors and genetics, which places them more at risk. Genetic factors can have a lot to do with the way the neurotransmitter, serotonin is balanced in the brain. Serotonin is crucial because it plays a fundamental role in regulating vital biological functions such as the quality of sleep, concentration, memory and appetite. Although this theory continues to be under investigation, some researchers believe that when people become extremely sad, the level of serotonin in the brain becomes imbalanced, and the primary function of serotonin levels is compromised. This is the reason why antidepressants are recommended, to increase serotonin levels.

Psychological Causes psychology Symptoms can occur as a result of a history of having too many negative life events or prolonged life stress. One extremely common cause is working in a stressful work environment. Many people spend a large chunk of time at work. Sometimes the work environment can be an extremely stressful, due to a negligent supervisor, unsupportive coworkers, heavy workloads, demanding deadlines, and unforgiving customers, amongst other things. Unfortunately, when the stress situation gets too high, it often turns into people being very unhappy with their job. If this dissatisfaction continues on for too long, it can turn into extreme sadness. Another common culprit for creating symptoms is the experiencing of prolonged mental and physical abuse as a child. Research further explains that children who were victims of  mental and physical abuse, tend to have a significantly higher rates of depression, than other children who were loved, and respectfully treated when they were growing up.  A treatment approach that has been proven to be most successful is cognitive behavior therapy, which works by assisting people understand their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This knowledge opens the doorway to personal change, and ultimately opens another doorway to realizing that there are choices, and people do not have to feel “stuck”.

Social Causes Depression sociologyThe third factor relates to experiencing a current major traumatic life event, some of which can be thought of as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Have you ever lost a loved one, or been fired from a job?  At first, it may be difficult to understand the reason why both of these events may lead to extreme sadness, but it is pretty straightforward. A sudden loss of a loved one or being fired from a job have something in common, they both bring about a mixture of grief, anger, guilt, and anxiety. They also involve the idea of losing something. Sometimes people are not equipped with the information that is needed in order to cope with these current emotionally-taxing times, and that is when people become depressed. Finding people that are kind, supportive and caring in your life is the treatment of choice, which is based on humanistic theory. These people may be family, friends, a community, a church or religious group, and of course finding a therapist that has these qualities. Treatment is no easy task and takes hard work; however, using the bio-psycho-social approach is a research-backed way to work through this rough time in life. Unfortunately, successfully working through a severe depressive episode usually takes approximately six months of hard work, may require medication, and weekly visits with a therapist.   The good news is that this illness can be treated very successfully!

A few Tips on How to Cope with Depression 

Tips for depression

Exercise increases serotonin levels! Health Psychology has evolved and includes your physical well-being into their practices by using bio-psycho-social techniques. This is because a healthy mind is largely determined by having a healthy body. Research consistently reveals that regular cardiovascular exercise is not only beneficial for physical health, but is also advantageous for emotional and cognitive health. (Memory, Problem Solving) Numerous studies have shown that there is a relationship between emotional stability and exercise. The more people exercise the more emotionally stable and happier people are in life. When we engage in cardiovascular exercise, it increases the amount of neurons in the brain, along with serotonin which helps people cope better with stressful life events. It also benefits memory and problem-solving abilities. Try to fit at least 30 minutes of brisk walking into your daily routine.

Social Support assists people in coping with stresses in life. Sometimes people  want to isolate. Try to allow those who care about you and love you be a part your life. Many researchers have found that not having a solid foundation of social support can lead to feelings of loneliness, which are also precursors to symptom development. Therefore, try to go out and develop those old friendships, make new friends, or spend time with loved ones.

Try to be Open to Idea of Therapy. This article is just a general guideline, and is by no means to be considered a substitute for a professional diagnosis or treatment. A psychologist using the bio-psycho-social techniques will be able to help you with the biological factors, social factors and the cognitive therapies that have been clinically proven to treat.

In conclusion, depression is a serious problem which usually leads to unnecessary pain and suffering in many areas of life.  It should be viewed and treated just as seriously as a physical illness. Medications alone are not as effective as one might think, and sometime symptoms are treatable, without the need for mood-enhancing drugs. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms, it is essential to get evaluated by a medical practitioner, you can begin to feel in charge of  life. There are many triggers in life that can lead to the onset of symptoms, but it is especially important to  realize that you did not cause the problem; it is an illness that based on biology and life stressors!  Some people continue to view these symptoms as being an emotional failing which is based on historical thoughts of the past. Try to treat yourself well by moving forward to living with the new thoughts of today towards happiness and joy.

Live Well,

© Dr. Cheryl MacDonald

To ask a question schedule an appointment, seminar or lecture go here

or feel free to call 1 669-200-6033

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Health Psychology

Cheryl Ann MacDonald, Psy’D.

Health Psychology of San Diego

To ask a question, schedule an appointment, lecture or seminar go here or call 1 669-200-6033

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American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th. ed.). Washington, DC