Los Angeles Chapter — California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT
Can You Depression-Proof Your Life?
The Depression VaccineGregg Henriques, Ph.D., Director of The Combined Clinical and School Psychology Doctoral Program at James Madison University, posits that depression is “a state of behavioral shutdown,” rather than a “disease of the brain.”
Henriques tells us, “Depression can emerge as a state of shutdown when we perceive a lack of opportunities for positive investment in a world full of threats.” He calls this framework the Behavioral Shutdown Model (BSM).
How Does the BSM Work?Animals behave in a way that maximizes their benefit to cost ratio. This happens in 2 ways: 1. Maximizing benefit, and 2. Minimizing cost. Humans are no different.
Maximizing Benefits:When we are full of positive psychic energy, we work to maximize benefits. We work hard to get that promotion, find that partner, learn that skill or sport.
Minimizing Costs:When we are in a state of low psychic energy, we work instead to minimize cost. Animals do this also—they hibernate, they sleep, they rest from exhaustion. When we work to minimize psychic cost, the result can be depression.
We shut down in response to our perception of the world as a place that is dangerous, or where we can’t possibly succeed. This leads to a downshift in mood, and begins the cycle that leads us into the cave of depression.
The Healthy Response to Behavioral ShutdownBehavioral shutdown, rather than being automatically diagnosed as clinical depression, can simply be a signal to pay attention to the critical components that need to be addressed in order to feel safe enough to begin the cycle of behavioral engagement.
Why We Get Depressed:Henriques gives specific reasons why depression rates have been skyrocketing, especially among young people:
1. Modern LifestylesOur bodies and our minds are adapted to work best in closely-connected social groups, but society today is isolating and emphasizes the individual over the group.
2. Adverse Life EventsThings sometimes happen that seem overwhelmingly negative and we can’t see any way out. This makes us more likely to be depressed.
3. Individual DifferencesSome people simply have a lower set point for mood.
4. Poor Coping SkillsPeople who naturally cope by avoiding problems, or by forming negative opinions about themselves are more likely to become depressed.
How Do We Get Out of This Cycle?Two of the most important things that will get one out of this downward spiral into depression are
1. An attitude of hope, and 2. Willingness to expend effort. Unfortunately, as we therapists well know, these two things are extremely hard to do if you are already feeling depressed.
So How Can We Help?The best thing we can do is to help our clients address the above four areas prophylactically—or, at the very least, before they have spiraled too far into what Henriques refers to as “the cave of depression”.
It makes good sense for us to check that all of our clients are addressing the four areas that can lead to depression, and that we teach them to recognize when they start to slip so they can catch themselves and course-correct.
Here are the tools we can give our clients to address the four areas of vulnerability:
The BSM reminds us that teaching clients to “depression-proof” their lives is something we should keep in mind for all of our clients, since the environmental factors that can lead to depression affect all of us at some point in our lives. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to keep these skills in mind for ourselves, as well!
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California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter