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Goodbye Mother, Hello Depression

Mother’s Death Sets Off Depression in Emotionally Distressed Working Woman

Depression is more common in women than in men, especially who have to juggle both work and family responsibilities. Having to be subservient to others in the family, constantly being disregarded, and lacking autonomy can further make these women more susceptible to depression. An individual suffering from depression typically show changes in his/her behaviour; this includes avoiding friends and social activities, persistently feeling sad or low etc. Major life events, such as the death of a family member, a relationship break-up, and job retrenchment etc., can trigger depression.

A Ticking Time Bomb

Lots of people suffering from depression may not fully aware of their conditions. They may feel anxious and unwell without any apparent causes and often complained of feeling heaviness in the chest – without knowing that depression is the underlying reason for these symptoms. Counsellor Mendy Kwong points out that having a persistent feeling of sadness or being low is a state of depressive symptom.  This may be treatable.

We had a lady client who is raised in a traditional family that favours men and regards women as more lowly. The client had to take care of household chores and also support the family financially with her entire salary. The client felt that she had no say and choices in all matters, and gradually developed a sense of helplessness. Upon her mother’s death, her suppressed emotions surfaced, making her realised that she had been harbouring hatred for her mother all along. This, as a result, triggered her depression.

Mendy explains that this client had accumulated and suppressed her anger and unhappiness for many years, without having an outlet to vent off. The sudden occurrence of her mother’s death, unfortunately, sets off these suppressed emotions. “This client was constantly forced to accept many matters without her needs being met, resulting in the suppression of her emotions and her feeling down. Before she met me, she was on medication and have consulted other professionals. However, in those consultations, her conversations mainly centred around others. She rarely talked about herself and was unclear about what she truly needs. She became depressed because she did not use any defence mechanisms to safeguard her psychological well-being, and she never expressed her feelings when she was angry or unhappy. Effective interaction with people requires two-way communication. It is unwise to constantly keep to ourselves because expressing our feelings and thoughts with others can lead to positive outcomes.”

Treating Major Depression Requires a Combination of Medication and Counselling/Psychotherapy

Depression can manifest in different degrees of severity. Major depression sufferers should seek treatment from a psychiatrist. Research shows that medication, coupled with counselling or psychotherapy, can improve the efficacy of the treatment with a more lasting positive outcome. In general, therapies for depression fall into three main types: (1) Cognitive behaviour therapy: Guidance is provided to help clients develop positive thought patterns. The therapy also helps them to realise that thoughts and beliefs can influence their behaviour and attitudes; (2) Humanistic therapy: Counsellors/psychotherapists focus on congruence/genuineness, acceptance, and accurate empathic understanding to motivate clients towards self-healing; (3) Emotion-focused therapy: Clients are guided to express and release their maladaptive emotions, and transform them into positive ones. In addition to these, other therapies that are used include traditional hypnotherapy, Ericksonian hypnotherapy, and dreams analysis.

In recent years, practising mindfulness is gaining popularity as an intervention for depression. Trainer Katy Mok states that depressed individuals tend to develop negative thinking patterns, or develop a pessimistic or self-critical inner voice. Practising mindfulness reduces these negative ruminations as it teaches us to be mindful and to stay in the present with compassion; this includes being mindful of our present thoughts.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which combines cognitive behaviour therapy with mindfulness practice, is an 8-week long intervention developed by professors from various universities including Oxford University. This therapy is backed by 30 years of research, with findings showing that it significantly reduces the recurrence of depression.

Benefits of Mindfulness-Based CognitiveTherapy for Mood Disorders (Excerpt)

  1. Recognise that negative thoughts are not true
    Stop ruminating negatively and be particularly mindful of any present thoughts of being hopeless. Learn to let go of negative thoughts and understand that these are not real.
  2. Learn to love yourself
    Be kind to yourself! Recognise that constantly striving for improvement and perfectionism can be maladaptive.
  3. Get along better with others
    This requires the awareness of knowing when to stop and hold back if necessary.
  4. Stop avoiding difficulties
    Practising mindfulness gives us more courage to face the fear that we created, and helps us learn to be more patient in managing our lives.

The Companions
Mendy Kwong