Gregg Henriques, James Madison University – A New Definition of Depression

A new theory on depression could help those suffering today.

Gregg Henriques, professor of psychology at James Madison University, examines a new way to think about this affliction.

Dr. Henriques is author of, “A New Unified Theory of Psychology,” and he directs the Combined Clinical and School Psychology Doctoral Program at JMU. He is a licensed clinical psychologist with expertise in depression, suicide and the personality disorders. He has developed a new meta-theoretical system for psychology articulated in many professional journals and is now applying that system to researching well-being, personality and social motivation.

A New Definition of Depression

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What is depression? Is it a normal reaction, a problematic way of coping, a disease of the brain? Even though depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, there is much debate about exactly what the term means.

To see why, take a moment and imagine a television commercial that begins with an attractive woman isolating herself at a party, gripped in the throes of a seemingly inexplicable sadness. A soft voice inquires and informs, “Have you experienced periods of depressed mood? Have you lost interest in things you used to enjoy? Depression is an illness. Ask your doctor about new antidepressant treatments available.”

Now imagine a different commercial. This one begins with an impoverished woman getting slapped by her husband. Her three children are having difficulties in school, and she has little in the way of social support. Here the “depression as illness” picture is less convincing.

The point is that different portrayals can lead to very different notions regarding the nature of depression. Yet, depression is a major public health issue, and the ideas that guide our understanding of the condition influence public opinion, health policies, treatment strategies, and research.

Although many have argued that depression is best considered a disease of the brain, I disagree. I advocate for what is called the Behavioral Shutdown Model of depression. It states that we should start by defining depression as state of behavioral shutdown. Specifically, it is where an individual’s psychological energy shifts from the positive to the negative, and makes them feel shut down. The cause of the shutdown can be many things. It might involve major stressors, poor coping, or a neurobiological system vulnerable to what some call the sick role.

It is by considering depression to be a state of behavioral shutdown that we can bring many different perspectives into alignment and advance our understanding.

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