Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – usually just shortened to depression – is a mental health disorder that has progressively become more prevalent in the United States.
Depression affects roughly 7% of Americans every year. And while that doesn’t sound like a lot, consider that that number translates to about 17 million individuals yearly meeting the diagnostic criteria for depression. However, because the criteria for being diagnosed with depression is relatively specific, this means that there are millions more Americans who are experiencing depressive symptoms, but who don’t necessarily meet the specific diagnostic requirements.
In other words, depression is a widespread disorder.
Moreover, depression seems to affect the population relatively equally. Individuals across the spectrum of Socio-Economic Status (i.e. lower, middle, upper classes) suffer from depression. Racial/Ethnic rates of depression are also relatively the same. It does appear as though women and young adults are most affected by depression. But this could be an effect of reporter bias. Women might be more likely to report depressive symptoms than men. Similarly, discussing difficulties with depression might be more acceptable for young adults than their older counterparts.
One of the most accepted ways for understanding the cause of depression is through the “diathesis-stress model” of mental disorders. This model says that there are two factors that can lead to someone developing depression (or other disorders, such as anxiety or bipolar). These are: biological factors and environmental factors. What this means is developing depression is based off of a combination of innate biology and the life circumstances someone has endured.
The diathesis-stress model helps to explain why, after going through the same traumatic event, some people will develop a mental health disorder, while others will not. Someone who has a genetic predisposition for developing depression might be more likely of seeing symptoms of the disorder following the same traumatic event than another individual who has little genetic influences for the disorder.
Talking about biological factors and historical factors understandably doesn’t sound too hopeful. We can’t change our DNA any more than we can change the situations we have already endured in our lives (some of which have been very traumatic).
But there actually is hope! Because your life experiences are a major contributing factor for developing depression, even if you cannot change your past circumstances, you can effectively treat your depression by taking steps to change your life today.
And this, of course, is where psychological help comes in. One of the easiest ways for treating depression is through “behavioral activation.” Behavioral psychologists have found that just by changing someone’s daily activities (e.g. exercise, sleep, getting outdoors), a person can experience an elevation of their depression. And these simple changes can be helpful even without any talk therapy.
Now imagine if you take these behavioral changes and add them to effective psychotherapy with a psychologist. Now you stand a real chance of finding lasting relief for your depression!
In therapy, I help individuals understand the historical factors that have contributed to them developing depression, while also focusing in current and future steps we can take together to help them start to feel better.