formula for depression

November 15, 2009

Here’s a nifty little formula about depression, which is derived from some great research done in 1978 (Brown & colleagues – no reference sorry!)

This research just confirms something we know instinctively, that people develop depression when their ability to cope with life is overwhelmed. This is not always the case, with some of the more severe (melancholic) forms of depression, it may just occur without any provoking event.

But for the majority of people, we become depressed when our coping resources are overwhelmed. So adversity can trigger depression, but interestingly the researchers found that adversity did not always invariably cause depression. In a study of women they managed to isolate another factor that influenced people’s response to adversity, which was social support.

So in looking at a group of women who had experienced one or more stressful life events, those who did not have social support were more likely to become depressed. Seems obvious right? Those with good social support were more able to survive adversity without developing depression. This just goes along with the theory that humans are really herd animals.

adversity minus social support = depression

adversity plus social support = resilience

I would say that this formula does not always work for everyone; some people still get depressed with all the social support in the world (I’m sure we all know those people) and some just cope heroically on their own with all kinds of misfortunes.

And the same goes for postnatal depression. I am a huge advocate of how wonderful babies and parenting are, don’t get me wrong I believe it is the most positive life experience there is. But nevertheless it is a stressful event requiring a lot of physical and emotional resources. So the same formula can apply to postnatal depression, with the baby as the “adversity”.

What that means is we all need to support new mothers, as well as Dads who do often also develop postnatal depression from some new research. That’s something that we seem to know instinctively, from the traditions of baby showers and dinner deliveries that hopefully occur when someone has a baby.

But it also means thinking outside your own family or social group to others who may not be so well connected and maybe just dropping in on them to see how they are going. Pass on your baby clothes to someone new or deliver them a meal.

And more generally don’t be afraid to go visit people you know when they are having a hard time, especially when they are isolated.



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