More and more people with depression are seeking professional help, which is a positive development, according to psychology professor Peter de Jonge. However, it becomes a cause for concern if it means that these people feel less responsible for their own recovery.
Ellen DeGeneres, René van der Gijp, Jim Carrey, and Prince Harry are just a few examples of celebrities who have talked about their depression in the media in recent years. This trend is also visible on social media, where people are more open about their depression. While this is a positive development, according to Peter de Jonge − a professor of psychology and an expert in mental disorders − there is also a downside: as the stigma around depression decreases, people are more likely to seek help from mental health services, which is a concern given the long waiting lists.
De Jonge explains: "In recent years, it has become easier to talk about mental health issues. That's great. But at the same time, we see that people are more likely to seek professional help and feel less responsible for their own recovery as a result. In the past, people used to think: I have a problem and I need to accept it or do something about it. Now they think: I have depression, so I need to seek help. This increased demand for help brings with it societal costs."
In the past, people used to think: I have a problem and I need to accept it or do something about it. Now they think: I have depression, so I need to seek help.
According to De Jonge, the increased demand for help is also due to the medicalization of depression. "A popular belief is that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain. This means it's not your 'fault,' and you can solve it with pills." However, De Jonge thinks this oversimplifies the issue. "There is usually not one cause for mental health issues. Moreover, the context also plays an important role. During stressful transitions such as the birth of your first child or getting a new job, you are at higher risk."
If you see depression purely as a medical problem over which you have little control, you are missing an important signal, according to De Jonge. Namely, the signal that something needs to change. "Ideally, your emotions should tell you what's not going well in your life." De Jonge advises people who are depressed to carefully examine the underlying problem and see if there is anything they can do about it, "no matter how difficult and painful that may be."
Ideally, your emotions should tell you what's not going well in your life.
De Jonge explains: "Many people, for example, suffer from climate stress. You can't solve that by saying, 'Here's a pill, now you won't be stressed about the climate anymore.' It's better to ask yourself questions such as: Is my reaction proportional? How can I still enjoy life? And perhaps the most important question: what can I do to contribute to the climate?"
Professional care is certainly necessary in certain situations, but people with depression can also do things themselves to reduce their symptoms, says De Jonge. Additionally, he sees an important role for the environment of the person who is depressed. "Your family and friends sometimes see the situation much more clearly than you do. When we help each other, it's also more manageable than when everything ends up in formal care. After all, mental disorders are both a personal and a societal problem."
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