The Canadian Mental Health Association states that approximately eight percent of adults will experience “major depression at some time in their lives.” The World Health Organization (WHO)’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse has even declared it “the top cause of disability in the world today,” while also noting that rates of depression have risen a concerning “18.4 per cent in a decade” (Thomson Reuters, 2017).
Canadians between the age of 15-24 are the most at-risk demographic, with 11 per cent saying they have experienced depression during their lives (CBC, 2017). In addition, almost one quarter of all deaths within that age demographic are caused by suicide (CMHA, n.d.).
Despite growing awareness of the prevalence and impact of this mental illness, resources devoted to helping those with depression remain low. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, “Only about half of Canadians experiencing a major depressive episode receive ‘potentially adequate care.’” (CAMH, n.d.)
While work remains to be done with regards to raising awareness, reducing stigma, and increasing spending to address depression, counsellors are poised to make a difference in the lives of clients. Here is a closer examination of this mental illness, as well as how counsellors can have a profound impact in addressing it.
Understanding Depression Before Starting a Counselling Therapist Career
The term ‘depression’ is often misused to describe temporary moments of sadness. The official illness is much more complex, with CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Commission, Dr. Patrick Smith, noting that there are “227 combinations of symptoms” for depression (Westfield, 2018). As professionals with counsellor therapist training know, the most common of these are a depressed mood, loss of interest in once enjoyable activities, energy loss, and changes in sleep pattern (Parekh, 2017).
Depression can be further split into individual forms, each carrying different triggers and recovery lengths. Postpartum depression, for example, is experienced by new parents approximately a week to a year after the birth of their child, and risk factors include hormone fluctuations, sleep deprivation, and a family history of mental illness (MDSC, 2013) (Mayo Clinic, 2015). Different triggers and characteristics define other forms of depression. Changes in light exposure, for example, have been known to cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression often seen during winter (MDSC, 2013). Dysthymia, on the other hand, is a milder form of depression that has a much longer duration than most episodes of major depression (NIMH, 2018).
Reducing the Stigma Experienced by Clients
Due to several misconceptions that continue to persist, many people with depression experience stigma. These misconceptions include the belief that those with depression lack willpower (Québec, 2017), that they can simply “snap out of it,” or even that depression isn’t a real illness (Porter, 2016). As a result of these negative and false assumptions, people with depression may experience discrimination such as social isolation or reduced opportunity in the workplace (Québec, 2017). People living with depression may also internalize negative beliefs, causing them to feel reluctant to seek help, share their experience, or complete treatment (Québec, 2017).
Fortunately, current efforts to reduce stigma are beginning to see results. According to research published last year by Ipsos, just under half of Canadians said they were “more comfortable talking about their mental health” compared to two years ago (Chai & Nicolas, 2017). Graduates of wellness college can help further reduce stigma by becoming advocates for mental health and dispelling myths and misinformation surrounding depression. They can also help clients identify negative beliefs they may have internalized by encouraging them to observe and modify their self-talk (Meyers, 2015).
Counselling Is an Effective Tool for Addressing Depression
Counselling is highly regarded in the field of depression treatment. Research on the effects of this technique has determined that it offers a “significant reduction in symptoms of depression in the short to medium term” without serious adverse events (MacPherson et al, 2013).
The merits of individual counselling approaches to depression have been comprehensively chronicled in many studies, including a study by the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, which found that “there is overwhelming research evidence to indicate that, in general, counselling and psychotherapy are effective” (Knauss & Schofield, 2009). Counsellors working with clients who have depression will often encourage the adoption of mindfulness techniques, which help them focus on the present moment (Meyers, 2015). Depression often causes clients to ruminate on past events, which is why “Once clients start recognizing negative thought patterns, they can then use visualization or other mindfulness practices to break the cycle” (Meyers, 2015). Holistic techniques that also take into account a client’s diet, exercise, spirituality, and family history are also becoming increasingly common within counselling, as research continues to uncover how the body and brain interact and affect each other (Meyers, 2015).
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CAMH (n.d.). Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Retrieved from: https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real/mental-health-statistics
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