Sunday, June 3, 2007

A fresh Austrian view on depression

A new, promising theory of depression has been developed at the university of Salzburg in Sigmund Freud's country: Depressed persons lose the ability to execute certain modes of behaviour and feel compulsed to execute other modes of behaviour all the time. They are aware of this imbalance but are unable to explain it. This loss of self-understanding is an important feature of depression.

I am going to present the details and then discuss the question of how these findings can be used to find new ways out of depression.

A body and mind model of behaviour

The psychologists at Salzburg have developed a catalog of 35 items that also include basic body reations. I find this very clever because depression very often hides itself behind body symptoms. They have asked 30 depressive patients and 30 healthy subjects: Has the frequency of the following behaviors changed during the last two weeks in comparison to normal? If so, how frequently do you do or feel the following.

The 35 items: Sleep. Vomit. Feel alert and focused. Feel greedy. Feel generous. Eat. Bowel urgency. Move around. Feel stiff (not able to move). Feel afraid. Feel happy. Deal with problems, situations, people. Avoid people. Perform sexual activity. Perform mental or intellectual activity. Drink. Urge to urinate. Quarrel. Feel peaceable. Feel like fighting. Feel resigned and non-resistant. Feel jealous. Feel indulgent. Work. Rest. Talk. Listen. Feel pleased. Feel annoyed or irritated. Laugh. Cry. Communicate with others. Seclude yourself. Feel cheerful. Feel sad.

The possible answers: Never. Less often. No change. More often. Always. Example: If you never feel afraid and this has not changed, you mark «no change».

Results: All of the thirty depressed patients but only two of the non-depressed had extreme positions (never, always) in their answers. Most of the depressed patients were unable to explain why this had happened to them.

Conclusions: The study authors suggest a new theory on depression, stating that extreme frequencies in modes of behaviour occur in depressed persons and that they are less likely than healthy persons to explain these extremes.

Finding new ways out?

The Salzburg model has been developed as a diagnostic tool that should allow to find out if a person is depressed or not. But I think the findings may also be used to cope with depression. If lack of self-understanding is a feature of depression and if you manage to understand yourself better, it may help you to reduce stress. You may still suffer, but maybe a bit less if you can explain why than if you have no idea about it.

Another point is the question of how you can try to influence yourself on the behaviour level. If you manage to change your behaviour in a way to get out of some extremes, you may curb the symptoms of depression and feel better than before. I am not sure if it will help but I think it is worth a try. My view is supported by a study showing that cognitive behavioural therapy is most effective in severe depression.

(Picture by ozlogy @ Flickr)

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