New report explains why so many of us are depressed and what can help

It’s been stated that one in six of us now takes some form of psychiatric medication. A new report co-authored by Dr Sue Holttum, Senior Lecturer for the University’s Salomons Institute for Applied Psychology and published by the British Psychological Society, takes a fresh look at why so many of us are depressed, and what can help.

The report, Understanding Depressionbrings together research from psychology and other disciplines, with input from people who have experienced depression, and challenges the common assumption that it is always best thought of as an illness.  

Contrary to what people often think, there are no scans or blood tests for depression. Rather, the events and circumstances of our lives are key, both in terms of causes and for recovery. It is a human experience as individual and as complex as other human experiences like happiness or falling in love, and people experience it for as many different reasons.

The conditions we live in, how our lives compare to those of others, opportunities or lack of them, support or lack of it from those around us – all of these can play a central role.  

The report argues that to seriously tackle depression, we shouldn’t wait until people are in crisis and then offer them ‘treatment’ in health settings. We should aim to build an ‘antidepressant society’, addressing those factors – such as poverty, racism, inequality, unemployment and childhood stress and disadvantage – that we know can lead people to become depressed.  

Dr Sue Holttum said: “Speaking as someone who has had experience of treatment for severe depression and is also now a psychologist, I am very excited about the publication of this document. I hope it helps us to build an antidepressant society that is equipped to support everyone.”  

Gillian Bowden MBE, lead author of the report and a member of the BPS Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), said: “With the impact of Covid-19 on mental health, and of increasing inequality, this report feels more important than ever. People experience depression for different reasons. There is no one simple explanation that applies in all cases, but we do know a lot about the different things that can play a role. We hope this report can inform overdue conversations about how our environments and social circumstances affect psychological health.”

As well as well-funded and joined up mental health services, the report focuses on the importance of building relationships and connections to counteract loneliness, along with social prescribing. It highlights the need for any help offered to consider people’s social and cultural needs and how we can build psychologically healthy communities, schools and workplaces, to ensure a brighter future for all.

‘Understanding Depression – Why adults experience depression and what can help’, can be downloaded here.

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