We've all had the "blues" at some point or another, but real depression is complex. Not all symptoms of depression can be explained by a person's genetics; some clinical depression stems from a person's life choices. Psychosocial risk factors also can play a role.
Depression negatively effects neural circuits that control mood, thinking, sleep, appetite and behaviour to the point that important neurotransmitters are put out of balance. .
The Canadian Mental Health Association describes depression as more than just the "blues" and more of a "feeling of severe despair" over a long period of time.
Dr. Alfred Adler, one of the greatest thinkers that much of today's modern counselling psychology is indebted to, felt that people need to connect to the world surrounding them and that a negative self esteem could damage a person's health.
Adler sat at the same table with Freud and listened to the master's thinking on why people get mentally ill. He later moved away from Freud and decided that human behaviour is influenced more by conscious choices than by the unconscious mind. Adler knew he had to educate individuals as to how their life choices could result in a predictable outcome.
Many individuals who experience depression symptoms, in Adler's view, could be explained by their sense of failure in achieving one or more of what he referred to as the five life tasks. He suggested that every person's health and happiness was dependent on how well they master each of these five tasks.
As you review the following five life tasks, how would you score yourself today on a scale of one (low) to five (high)?
Career: Each person needs to find a meaningful career and work to feel they are a contributing part of society.
Friendship: Each person needs to have friends who are interested in their well-being. The relationships need to be supportive and non-judgmental. Adler believed that a person's happiness could never be at the expense of another human being.
Love: Each person needs to know that they are loved by another, and that they are able to return that love.
Self-acceptance: Each person needs to feel they are accepted as a valuable and important person.
Spiritual dimension: Each person benefits from finding peace with their understanding of the role of spirituality in their life.
The closer your score is to 25 the more likely you are on the right track and are not experiencing high levels of stress or depression symptoms.
If you took our depression quick survey as part of Globe Careers' Your Life at Work Survey, you would most likely find a relationship between your five life tasks score and your current depression symptoms risk.
Adler suggested that individuals who experience depression symptoms may get relief if they are better able to achieve success in one or more of the five life tasks. He taught that when a person was not having success in one or more of the five life tasks it was normal to feel discouraged.
The core of his work with people was to encourage them to start to look at the world differently so that they could discover the choices available, as well as the behaviours and goals that – if followed – can improve their quality of life.
Adler's work was important and helpful. But we also know today that when a person has clinical depression, regardless of the root cause, it is real and there is no quick fix. But there are ways to help a person who is living with depression to get relief and, in time, get the energy to transform their quality of life. Most likely what they improve will touch one or more of Adler's five life tasks.
Since adding the depression survey to the Your Life at Work Survey last month we found a correlation between depression and coping skills. In a sample size of nearly 1,000 people we found that, on average, people with a higher depression score also reported lower levels of coping skills.
We're not suggesting that every person with depression will change their life immediately by simply learning coping skills. What appears evident is that coping skills play an important role in how a person moves through life to meet their needs or, as Adler would suggest, be successful in each of the five life tasks.
Bill Howatt (@billhowatt) is president of Howatt Consulting in Kentville, N.S.