We’re constantly bombarded by negative information. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the number of people suffering from depression is on the increase. In fact, The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified depression as an epidemic. Moreover, according to some prestigious experts, it’s probably the most prevalent mental disorder.
According to the WHO, in 2017, there were 300 million people in the world suffering from depression. This represents 4.4 percent of all human beings living on planet earth. The figures are disturbing and continue to grow year after year. In fact, in the last 15 years, depression has increased by 18.4 percent. In addition, it’s a disorder that doesn’t discriminate between age, sex, social class, or race and can even be fatal.
Depression isn’t the same as sadness, no matter how much we may equate them in colloquial language. Indeed, depression is far more. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that, for a diagnosis of depression to be made, at least five symptoms out of a total of nine must occur for a period of not less than two weeks. The diagnosis of depression is made when the following symptoms occur:
- A markedly diminished interest or ability to feel pleasure in all or almost all activities.
- A loss or significant increase in appetite and consequently, weight.
- Not sleeping or sleeping a great deal (insomnia and hypersomnia, respectively).
- Agitated or slowed behaviors.
- Permanent fatigue or the feeling of a lack of energy.
- Inappropriate feelings of excessive worthlessness or guilt.
- Decreased ability to think or concentrate.
- Recurring thoughts of death.
One of the great problems of depression is its recurrence. In psychology, recurrence is called the appearance of a depressive episode in a person who’s recovered and has gone for more than two months without symptoms. In depression, the recurrence rate is extremely high. Moreover, the chronicity of the disease is frequently associated with personality disorders, intense anxiety, addictions, or psychotic traits.
“Between 50-85 percent of the consultants who have recovered present a relapse, estimating an average of 75 percent of relapses (up to 30 percent in the first year)”.
Doing the opposite of that dictated by depression takes more than a titanic effort. However, it’s tremendously effective if it’s carried out under the supervision of expert professionals. In fact, treatment of depression from the behavioral activation (BA) approach has been shown to improve depressive symptoms on three battle fronts:
- Activating the powerless individual.
- Challenging the automatic thoughts that don’t allow them to move forward. For example, ” I’m useless”, “I shouldn’t be here”, or “There’s no point in me even getting up today”…).
- Modifying the beliefs that feed these thoughts.
Numerous studies have proven that the changes produced by BA last over time for periods of up to two years. In addition, the BA treatment approach assumes that the individual doesn’t have depression, but is immersed in a depressive situation. This allows the individual to take control of their actions, as well as the consequences of them.
Behavioral activation therapy
BA is a therapy structured in 15 individual sessions. It follows three steps:
- To establish harmony between the individual and the therapist. Indeed, the therapeutic alliance is a key ingredient in any therapeutic process.
- To analyze the individual’s daily activities in detail and observe how they’re related to their mood.
- To find and apply new coping strategies and, before ending therapy, to review previous sessions to address relapse prevention.
BA is not so much about performing pleasant or pleasurable activities, but rather those that are valuable and don’t involve avoidance behaviors. In fact, those that have a real impact on improving depressive symptoms.
For example, going to the movies can be an avoidance behavior if the individual should be working. This is because it’s only by working that they’re able to access those things that are valuable to them. As such, earning a salary allows them to be independent which can be the exact aspect that gets them out of their depressive situation.
BA is based on the analysis of the function of the behaviors that the individual performs in a specific depressive situation. In psychology, this is called functional behavior analysis. This method of therapy seeks acceptance and implementation of action plans that encourage the client to remain active regardless of their mood.
An effective treatment
Multiple studies have demonstrated the effectiveness and versatility of BA. As a matter of fact, it’s emerged as the most effective and cheapest alternative to be employed in the area of public health. It’s effective in a multitude of populations (adolescents, different ethnic groups, rural areas, etc) and can even be applied online and accessed from smartphones.
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