Social and Relational Factors in Depression

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 People are complex beings. There are many things that make us human. Our minds are complex. There, our emotions are born and felt. Our emotions shape who we are. They determine if we wake up ready for the day with an optimistic attitude, or if we feel like life isn’t even worth living. In Way of The Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman, one of the main characters named Socrates teaches about emotions. One emotion that he specifically addresses is sadness. Branching off of sadness, there is depression. Depression affects all people regardless of race, gender, age, creed. Though sadness and depression aren’t seen by the visible eye, they are very prevalent among our society. Today, society has made great strides regarding the awareness and education of depression. People continue to move in the right direction in hopes of helping people to have fulfilling lives and to become happy. The main things that contribute to depression are genetic and environmental factors. The effects of those factors are that everyday tasks become difficult and people become withdrawn from life. Several ways to treat this disorder are with medication, counseling, lifestyle changes, and seeking help from others.

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Although sadness and depression may seem like they are identical, they are not. People experience sadness in response to encountering life problems such as a death in the family, losing a job, or coming upon difficult financial times . It is a normal emotion that everyone will have in their lifetime. The main difference between these two feelings is that when a person is sad they can usually find relief from their low mood by exercising, crying, or talking to others. In an article written by the Mayo Clinic, they defined depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest . With depression, people are not able to find immediate relief from it . When a person has feelings of sadness for longer than two weeks, that is when it turns from a normal human emotion, into a classified disorder. These two feelings are intertwined with each other, but it is important to note that sadness is just an aspect of depression.

Depression has evolved in many different ways throughout history. The first documented record of this disorder was in Ancient Mesopotamia . The Mesopotamians believed that it was a spiritual problem, not a physical. In an article written by community health educator Nancy Schimelpfening, she writes that “the idea of depression being caused by demons and evil spirits has existed in many cultures, including the ancient Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Chinese, and Egyptians”. These ancient cultures stipulated that demons were the cause of depression, as well as their gods being angry . People assumed that it was a supernatural issue so in turn they sought out aid from priests to rid them of their malevolent spirit. Cultures dealt with depression by beating, starving, and torturing people in the hopes that they would be able to drive the demons away . Contrary to what most people believed about depression being caused by demons, there were a handful of Greek and Roman doctors who suspected that it was actually a biological and mental ailment. Those doctors dealt with it by using holistic methods like massages, music, diet, and certain exercises (Schimelpfening). During that time period, depression had not been formally diagnosed, so it was known as melancholia. A Roman scholar named Cicero thought that negative emotions such as irateness, misery, and fear were the root cause of melancholia. On the other hand, a Greek physician named Hippocrates had an opposite belief. He proclaimed that depression was attributed to an imbalance of four body fluids, known as humors. The four fluids were yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood . One of his favored treatments to deal with melancholia was bloodletting. In the middle ages when christianity became the dominant religion, people continued to believe that demons and witches and evil spirits were the root cause of depression. People affected by this disorder were locked up in lunatic asylums. Witch hunts, exorcisms, and burning were common occurrences during that time period. Only in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century did people begin to understand that depression is a psychological problem, not spiritual. Common treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomies were used at the time. Schimelpfening wrote that “where depression treatment had previously been focused only on psychotherapy, drug therapies now started to be developed and added to the mix”. After the Second World War, medications were introduced to the public as a less severe option for treatment. The ideas of what cause depression have shifted throughout time. Now people recognize that depression is not a spiritual issue, but is a psychological disorder.

There are many factors of depression, one of those being environmental. Cultures around the globe view and treat depression in different ways. For example, in western cultures there is an emphasis placed on independence and people aim for personal success. In south asian cultures people view the family and society as being more significant than the individual person. Doctor Rashmi Nemade writes that “many times, personal happiness is sacrificed for the good of the larger group in such cultures.” People who are part of these cultures can develop feelings of sadness because they feel like they are not valued or important. Bullying is another external factor of depression. In an article written by the Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, it is mentioned that “one study has found that some people who were bullied as children are still experiencing mental health issues 40 years after being bullied . When a person is subjected to being treated so badly for a long period of time, there are life long consequences. Stress is also an additional factor. Nemade writes that “any people who are depressed show high levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in their blood”. Going through stressful events can cause people to have feelings of hopelessness. They can also take away someone’s sense of control. That leads to a person becoming emotionally distressed and eventually depressed. There is a correlation between trauma and depression. Things like a death of a loved one, being a victim of violence or being exposed to it, and abuse are all factors that increase the chance of depression. Social isolation is also a main environmental factor of depression. Nemade writes that “social support networks provide a shoulder, guidance, love, caring, entertainment, laughs, and other types of mental and physical assistance during times of need and crisis”. When people don’t have the support of others during difficult times, they can become overwhelmed and distressed. Being in that state for a long period of time is not healthy and causes significant harm to a person's mental health. Gender is an additional contributing factor. Toxic masculinity is very prevalent in today’s society. Men are taught to hold in and suppress their emotions, which is very damaging and causes an array of harmful outcomes. Clinical psychologist Ben Martin notes that “women experience depression about twice as often as men”. Hormonal changes such as premenstrual changes, pregnancy, miscarriage, postpartum period, pre-menopause, and menopause add to the developement of depression in women. There are many different environmental factors that contribute to the development of depression.

There are also different internal factors that come into play with the development of depression. People who have personality traits such as being a perfectionist, becoming easily flustered, or have low self-esteem, they have a higher likelihood of developing mental health conditions such as depression. If someone does not have very much self confidence, it is easy to pick out and dwell on all of their flaws. Constantly viewing themselves in such a negative manner will cause them to become miserable and unhappy. Perfectionism can cause negative mental health issues as well. When a person is always striving for excellence, they can easily become upset about small errors they make that are not that significant. They start to see themselves as being not worthy. Another internal determinant of depression people can have is genetics. Psychologist Timothy J. Legg details that “a person with a relative who suffers from depression is almost five times as likely to develop it.” Genes are passed down from person to person in a family. So if a parent were to have this disorder, their children would be pre dispositioned to enheiriting it. Certain temperaments, characteristics, and biological makeup cause people have a higher chance of being depressed (What Causes Anxiety and Depression).  

Works Cited

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