I have heard depression being described as “the inability to see a future,” and “the negative side of happiness.” It is certainly these things, but is perhaps, as difficult to describe and define as is love.  Depression is the state where we exist in an emotional hole.  No way out and no way forward and yet, if this is true, then why are those  among us who are simply present in the moment, not depressed?  Is it because these people know there is a future and yet, are content to do those things necessary to ensure such a future is attainable?

Depression is often seen as that emotional state where all negativity takes hold, barring any view of the future and where the sufferer stays stuck in an emotional place of negativity.  Quite often such a state has as it’s requirement of constancy, a state of victim-hood.  The victim loves depression.  Where attention goes, then energy flows and the depressive’s attention is in the past.  “Why did that happen?”  “I can’t do anything more.  I’ve done everything possible” etc.  The depressive’s attention is in the past and his or her energy is stuck in the past also.  They have no power to propel themselves into the future.  For the depressed person, there is no future according to their judgement.  Their beliefs create their consequence.

The role of thought

The trigger or the event of a depressive episode, is usually taken as a personal insult, by the sufferer.  They believe that they are not worthy.  The consequences of the event become all pervasive.  This event and it’s consequences take over all aspects of the person’s life and such outcomes are seen as being permanent.  “I shall never be happy again.”  The belief of permanency leads to the depressed person to relive the event, which in turn allows them to re-affirm that they are indeed, unworthy.  These thoughts of unworthiness and other consequences of the triggering event, lead to the confirmation, in their view, that this pervasiveness is permanent.  They shall, indeed, feel this terrible, be this unworthy and shall never be happy, forever.  These thoughts, in turn, cause them to relive the event and so, the entire episode becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The depressed person, remains depressed – until they come to a point of dispute.

Experience a new emotion

The disputation of permanence, allows the depressive to experience a new emotion.  Hope.  For the first time, in this episode, they experience a glimmer of what their future could be, or even, that there might indeed, be a future.  The depression is no longer all pervasive.  The depression is no longer permanent.  The results of the event and it’s consequences are no longer personal.  There is a new feeling.  New hope.  New possibilities.  Being able to see a future and making plans for the future creates a break in the cycle of depression.  Energy begins to flow forward rather than to the past.  Life becomes more balanced in it’s energy flows.  A healthy concentration on past and future events, allows for a balanced life and does not allow for depression.  A healthy concentration on present, past and future allows the person to be associated with those events.  They are no longer disassociated with their outer world and through that, it becomes more likely that such a person would no longer be disassociated with their oneness, their emotions.  They become able to live their life through the reasonable expression of their true self, being in touch with their inner and outer worlds.

Depression has been called “the common cold of mental illness,” because it occurs so frequently. In total, an estimated 70% of women and over 40% of men will experience some form of depression before age 65. (McGriffin, Bebbington, & Katz. 1989.)

Depression was first proposed by Karl Abraham, a student of Freud.  Freud held that depression arises from feelings of anger toward a parent or other significant or attachment figure, who has died or otherwise abandoned the person.  Turned inward, this anger, Freud suggested, turns to guilt and self-loathing, which then brings about the depressive episode.  There is little evidence to support Freud’s theory.  Depression may, indeed, be a reaction to the loss of something or someone, deeply valued by a person whose need to be taken care of as an infant, was not adequately met.  Such people sometimes become fixated on the issue of dependency and the need for love.  Later in life, when something valued is taken from them, they may feel unbearably vulnerable and could be plunged into deep depression.

Recent evidence suggests that poor parenting may pre-dispose people to depression. (1.) Specifically, depression appears more common in those whose parents were overly protective toward them while displaying little genuine love. This is sometimes referred to as affectionless control.

Critical loss

Depressive episodes are often triggered by critical losses in a person’s life.  Evidence shows that those who are dependant on others are particularly prone to becoming depressed over lost interpersonal relationships.  They are especially sensitive to rejection, abandonment etc and become easily depressed when such events occur.  When a person’s behaviour no longer elicits the rewards it once did, depression may occur.  Such change may be the result of the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or even retirement from long-term employment.  Without the rewards of love and the approval of others, the person may give up trying and become depressed and withdrawn.  Withdrawal worsens the effect of loss of approval and guarantees that the person will experience few pleasures and so, depression worsens.

Forced into social situations (made to go to a party for example), depressed people usually lack motivation and skills to interact with others and to enjoy themselves and thus, without assistance to become involved in rewarding social activities, the depression cycle may not be broken. (2).  Depressed people harbour negative schemes about themselves, the world, and their future.  (“I’m unlikeable, nothing ever goes right, tomorrow will be just as bad as today.”).

Depressed people confirm their negative views, by concentrating on irrelevant information.  Distorted thinking is a major factor in causing and maintaining depression.  To lift depression, people must be assisted to break free from negative outlooks and reasoning.  Mood disorders, such as depression, may have a biological underlay, and it is prudent to understand, that there could be a genetic link to these behaviours.

Some researchers suspect that depression may be related to imbalances in the neurotransmitters, nor epinephrine and serotonin.  Anti-depressants (Tricycles & MAO inhibiters) increase the level of nor epinephrine and serotonin in the brain, some researchers believe that depression may occur when nor epinephrine and serotonin levels drop below a critical point, however, although most depressed patients were found to have low levels of serotonin, many did not have chronically low levels of nor epinephrine. (3.) It is now believed that depression may be the result of subtle changes in the way neurons in the brain respond to the transmitters nor epinephrine and serotonin. Hormones may also be implicated in depression.  One of the more common side effects of abnormal hormone production, is depression.  One intriguing possibility is that depression may result from disturbances in normal biological rhythms (4.).

How others respond

The way in which people respond to a depressed person may also be a factor in the illness.  As we have seen, depression may have it’s origins in inter-personal relationships.  Others may react to a person with depression in a negative manner, without empathy or with scant regard.  Their concern for the sufferer of this illness, may not be genuine and so, quite often, they display their true feelings through rejection and avoidance, causing the depressed person to react with deepening despair, which, in turn serves to heighten the reactions of others causing them to withdraw even more.  A vicious cycle develops.

People often report feeling depressed themselves, after spending time with a depressed person, as well as a feelings of increased hostility.  These people also express much less willingness to talk to depressed people again.  (5).  Depressed people with low self esteem are more likely to seek reassurance excessively, thus leading to a probability of rejection and so, again, setting up the cycle of depression.  In a study by Joiner, Alfando and Metalsky (1992), rejection occurred only among male room-mates; females did not become more rejecting of depressed room mates.

Depression probably has many causes, any number of which can work together to produce depressive symptoms (6).  One case might be triggered by biological factors and then made worse by negative thinking and negative social reactions, another with a distressing life event which sets in motion negative outlook and psychological reactions that intensify the problem.  When people feel powerless to eliminate a painful stimulus, they often become upset, feel hopeless and give up trying to cope.  Seligman called this “learned helplessness’”

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1 Kinder et al 1992, 1993

2 Peter Levinsohn .Behavioural approach to Depression.1974

3 McNeal & Cimbolic 1986, Anti Depressants & Biochemical Theories of depression. Psychological Bulletin, 99, 361-374

4 Ehlers, Frank & Kupfer, Archives Of General Psychiatry, 45, 948-952

5 Coyne 1976, Journal Of Abnormal Psychology, 39 14-27

6 Akiskal, 1979, The psychology Of The Depressive Disorders.  New York Academic Press


John Allan is an experienced psychotherapist, social commentator, counsellor, certified life coach, and fully certified (TAE) trainer. He is also experienced in a broad range of skills and theoretical approaches. John is widely known for his service to Australian outback communities, in dealing with suicide, drug and alcohol, depression and isolation issues. He is the initiator and facilitator of numerous social programs for the benefit of youths, particularly in isolated Aboriginal communities and resocialisation programs for people with dementia. Find out more by using the contact form on

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"Love does not obey our expectations; it obeys our intentions." ~Lloyd Strom




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Author, trainer, psychotherapist and social commentator. With Irish Rebel and Scottish Exile forebears, our family history in Australia dates from colonial times and encourages me to be proudly Australian

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