By Chengcheng Qu

 

Depression, as a medical disorder, is one of the major affective disorders especially in developed countries. A report from WHO has shown that, by 2012, there were more than 300 million people living with it worldwide [1]. Clinical depression normally presents with low mood for more than at least two weeks, including series of symptoms including changes of appetite (either significantly losing or gaining while the body weight is not changing accordingly), loss of interest in activities that are normally enjoyable. Severe depression could also lead to suicidal ideation, up to 60% of people who die by suicide had depression, or some other mood disorders.

Although depression sounds alarming as a mental disorder, depression as an emotion is a completely normal or even healthy emotional response to daily lives. Everyone could feel down at some points in their life. It is normal for you to feel a bit depressed when there are some negative life events happening to you, such as experiencing a breaking up of a relationship, losing a job, failing an exam, etc. The changes of seasons could also lead to depression, for instance a long, cold and dark winter. Sometime, there may not be an obvious reason for depression.

Therefore, if you find yourself experiencing some depressive feelings recently, do not be alarmed, we will here introduce a useful technique to help you fight against it.

Behaviour activation – a useful technique that you can apply to address depression

Behavioural activation is an intervention or CBT skills designed to address a few typical cognitive, mood or behavioural pattern of depression such as low motivation, avoidance or inactivity, especially when it help users to retain or regain the sense of control [2]. Behaviour activation helps users to better understand the relationship between their behaviours and emotions, or even shape their emotions with active behaviours.

One major focus of behavioural activation is activity scheduling, which is a method for structuring users’ day according to the avoided activities. It is not as simple as hedonism or scheduling pleasant or satisfying events, but for scheduling events consistent with users’ valued directions. Contextual functional analysis is another factor to help people to understand their typical cognitive processes in response, contexts or consequences of their depressive moods, and confirm their valued directions, such as activities to help them keep their goals [3].

Approaches for applying behavioural activation

If you think you are a bit down recently, do not worry, do not panic, just take a deep breath and read this article, hopefully it will provide some ways to help. 

More exercise

Feeling down might make you unmotivated to do anything physical. However, starting a bit of physical activity is always helpful in refreshing your mind and relaxing your stress. In some cases, exercises could even be prescribed as antidepressant: as suggested in The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), people with either mild of moderate depression are recommend to take exercise for about 3 sessions per week for longer than 10 weeks [2].

Apart from this, Harvard Health has also suggested that engaging in physical exercise could reduce sleeping interruptions or other physical problems, therefore reduce depression concerns.

Eating healthy

Depression is always associated with abnormal eating behaviours, such as chaotically eating or loss of appetite and abnormal change of weight [1]. Eating mindfully is not only an approach to avoid eating disorders or junk food, the process of preparing a good meal could also be incorporated with activity scheduling. If it fits your value, preparing or enjoying a good meal could also be scheduled with social activities and help you to gain a competiveness and connect-ness with others.

Start planning activities

Make some concrete and realistic plan, list activities that fits your value and make you feel better, and give yourself some sense of achievement while finishing the tasks. You are always encouraged to start from the easiest tasks such as drinking enough water or waking up early in the morning. Make sure the progress is measureable so you could give yourself a reward after achieving a certain progress, perhaps a delicious ice-cream.

Finally, if none of the above things works for you, especially for more than two weeks, you might require professional support. If necessary, please seek professional help as soon as you can. Thankfully there are lots of options for help out there, including health services, NGOs and charities, student services and workplace support.

References

[1] APA. 2013. American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.744053
[2] P. Mcevoy, A. Law, R. Bates, K. Hylton, and W. Mansell. 2013. Using behavioural activation in the treatment of depression: A control theory perspective. J. Psychiatr. Ment. Health Nurs. (2013). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/jpm.12032
[3] David Veale. 2007. Behavioural activation for depression. Adv. Psychiatr. Treat. (2007). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1192/apt.bp.107.004051
[4] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/exercise-for-depression/
[5] https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression

The author

Chengcheng Qu is an Early Stage Researcher and PhD fellow of the AffecTech project based at Lancaster University. Her research explores the organisation and processing of episodic memories in depression and anxiety. Chengcheng is particularly interested in designing novel systems for supporting users’ meaningful and long-lasting recall of their autobiographical memories, for alleviating affective disorders, building a better cognitive self.

AffecTech

AffecTech is a digital health research project established with support from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network (ITN) via the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 (H2020) research and innovation programme. AffecTech focuses on new technologies to support common mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and bipolar, and is a European Innovative Training Network funded under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 722022. You can find out more about AffecTech via our home page and also via our Twitter page https://twitter.com/Affec_Tech.

Photos: Courtesy of Alan Cole/AffecTech.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional health advice or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor, or appropriately qualified health professional with any questions in relation to your mental health, or any other health condition. Do not ignore professional health advice or delay in seeking professional health advice because of something you have read on this website.