Psychology Assignment: Depression

Depression is a type of mood disorder affecting a person’s emotional state of mind. Unipolar disorder classifies depression under a DSM-IVR system where a person will be diagnosed if they shows signs of intense sadness or apathy alongside four other symptoms which include difficulties sleeping, fluctuations in energy levels, feelings of guilt and inferiority. It’s crucial that these symptoms are clearly causing distress and consistently present for two weeks or more. It is important to identify and characterise depression in order to diagnose and treat the disorder. There are several approaches to depression, two of which are psychological and biological.

The first psychological approach is the psychodynamic theory pioneered by Freud. His explanation of depression stems from relationships in early childhood, also focusing on the power of the unconscious and how this force propels our behaviour. Freud observed similar symptoms between grief and depression thus reaching the conclusion that depression is an extreme reaction to loss, whether real or imagined. It is this perceived loss and the failure to acquire an effective way of dealing with such a loss early on that increases the likelihood of becoming depressed when faced with another perceived radical loss.

There is an emphasis on unresolved feelings of hostility when loss has been experienced resulting regression and in internal guilt, in turn leading to depression. Freud bases his theory on case studies which has been accepted as a reasonable source of research as it is on indepth and rich however it is difficult to generalise any findings to the overall population therefore lacking in ecological validity. His research lacks falsifiability as it cannot be scientifically proven for example theres no standardised measurement of loss. Contrary to Freud, Paykel and Cooper (1992) found that only 10% of individuals who experienced a major loss during their childhood experienced depression.

This suggests that there is an overemphasis on the patients past, rather than their current problems therefore the contribution of early loss is not as significant as believed. However, Freud’s psychodynamic approach is the only theory to relate to the unconscious, apart of the mind which great importance is placed nonetheless his theory is reductionist because it simplifies variables down to the unconscious by saying there is no conscious control over personality development and ignores for example biological factors.

An alternative psychological approach of depression is the behavioral theory of ‘learned helplessness’ developed by Seligman (1974) which suggests that if people attempt to deal with negative experiences but fail to this successfully, as a consequence feelings of depression will arise as a result of the self-belief of their incapability of succeeding in anything, they therefore stop trying. He tested this by conducting a highly controlled experiment placing dogs in a confided area where electric shocks pulsed through. Once the dogs learned there was no escape, they no longer reacted to the shocks and accepted their fate.

Even when opportunities to prevent these shocks arose, there was no attempt. Immediately the issue of psychological harm is raised due depressive symptoms the dogs incurred after shocks. As the experiment was administered in a laboratory it allows the study to be replicated however when conducted on humans the results were not duplicated. These dissimilarities suggests there is low ecological validity and as the experiment uses dogs, it cannot be generalised onto humans.

Despite this, Hiroto and Seligman (1974) conducted an alternative experiment results indicate that individuals who had repeatedly encountered challenging events and failed had an increased chance of being unsuccessful in subsequent tasks. Although the behavioural theory helps us to understand depression farther, it is deterministic because it assumes that once behaviour is learnt the individual has no control over stressors when in reality there is. Furthermore, not all bad situations leads to depression as ‘learnt helplessness’ theory suggests.

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