Unipolar depression is a psychological disorder which has seen a surge in the last 50 years. It has been discussed in numerous works of art, and has even become a public health issue because of its prevalence. Evidently, this psychological condition is complicated, and diminishes performance in many areas. Due to the fact that it has been reaching epidemic proportions, it has become a mayor health issue in many countries around the world, as it interferes with the capacity to work, maintain social bonds, and be productive in general. One of the main problems with this disorder is that its cause is not precisely known. Theories abound as to what the etiology of unipolar depression could be, and because most psychological schools are incommensurable, each one supports a different explanation. Sociocultural, psychodynamic and behavioral theories will be explored to discuss their proposals with respect to the cause of unipolar depression, including the similarities and differences between them.
As the objective of this paper is to discuss different theories, the exact nature of the disorder will be described as generally as possible. Unipolar depression entails a prolonged collection of negative signs and symptoms, which may include lethargy, crying, irritability, negative — including suicidal — thoughts, emotional sensibility, loss of sexual appetite, numbness of the senses, lack of interest, diminishment in concentration and attention, and sensation of corporal heaviness. These markers must present themselves during a continued and long period of time, usually thought of from two to three weeks; momentary bouts of sadness do not count towards this diagnosis. Also, the condition must be considered abnormal. Different cultures perceive sadness differently, and it is important to consider this when making a diagnosis; also, periods of mourning and response to emotional turmoil are considered factors that complicate the application of this category.
The sociocultural approach focuses on the social and cultural context of the individual, from where they believe mental disorders stem; in the case of unipolar depression, this entails the nature of contemporary Western civilization, lower socioeconomic levels and the female gender. The culture in which we live can be described as fast, omnivoyeur and discriminative. There is a need for everything to be done as soon as possible, and with novelty. This wears people out, as it is almost impossible to keep up with what society demands, as it doesn’t respect the time people usually need. Every day, the time a person is expected to mourn, or take care of a new-born child gets shorter; new gadgets come out, and old ones are updated, with vertiginous speed. Thus, it is difficult for a person to maintain the rhythm that civilization imposes, causing feelings of inferiority and hopelessness. Technology has also made intimacy scarce, with cameras and modes of registration virtually everywhere you go. This constant watch by an anonymous other augments the pressure on the common man to give the best of him, which is always more than he can give. Finally, the ridiculous standards of normalcy, which are imposed imperatively, are a cause of discrimination and feelings of inadequacy. In this aim for perfection, what the person can actually offer is never enough, causing discrimination for virtually everyone.
Nevertheless, those most segregated are the ones that suffer from depression the most. Usually this entails those in lower socioeconomic classes. Due to the importance of money in the society, and its unequal distribution, those who have less of it are more restricted than those for whom it abounds. Even such basic, necessary things such as food, shelter and medical assistance come at a price, which is not always affordable for everyone. Many people must maintain more than one job to be able to sustain their family, which causes stress. As power comes with money, these people have less of it, and end up being underrepresented in terms of benefits. A capitalistic society with a discriminative wealth distribution will forcefully cause more suffering on the lower classes.
Similarly, as women occupy an inferior role in society, they also suffer from this pressure, as well as others. The feminine role implies less power and more victimization than that of man; yet, it also entails being more sensitive and a more volatile relational style, both due to social stereotypes and roles. Because unipolar depression is a mood disorder, it affects women more than men, who usually vent their feelings through anger instead of sadness. Furthermore, as the model woman is said to be capricious, this also leads to more depression on the part of women, then of men, whose role is more stable.
On the other hand, the psychodynamic approach focuses on unconscious factors at play, which would be the cause for unipolar depression. Psychoanalysts believe that mental disorders are caused by trauma in early childhood. This is usually sexual in nature, like a premature seduction or erotic caressing; it can also be an interruption in the mode of obtaining pleasure that the child had used up to that point. Psychoanalysts believe that this disturbance is so great, that the psychic apparatus represses it, because it doesn’t want to know anything about it, and lodges it into the unconscious, where it stays throughout a person’s life, only dissolving through the psychoanalytic experience. The trauma is so intolerable, that the ego’s consistency is menaced by its mere recognition; thus, it must be thrown into the unconscious. There, the trauma later begets the symptoms when the person is older, yet they are transformed symbolically.
Behavioral theories put emphasis on the history of positive and negative reinforcements throughout a person’s life. Due to the association of pain and indifference or pleasure and attention that a person receives for given actions, a person develops the patterns of behavior that best adapt to the rewards or punishments that he has been given throughout his life. The individual is not taken into consideration beyond being a receptor of reinforcements. Also, he may be modeling a learnt behavior previously modeled by an authority figure. For example, if he saw his mother receiving care from his otherwise-absent father, he might look to mimic this act to receive attention, also. The most important aspect in a person’s natural development for the behavioral theory is how he was rewarded or punished by the external world, especially authority figures.
While the manifestation of unipolar depression is the same, every school of psychological thought has a different explanation for it, even if they do contemplate some similarities. For example, both behavioral and sociocultural models emphasize the role of external factors on this disorder, while psychoanalysis puts the responsibility on the person and his internal drives. Nevertheless, sociocultural theory, like psychodynamic, believes that there are internal personal factors at play in unipolar depression, while behavioral theory discards them. In behavior and psychodynamic theories, the interruption of individual pleasure plays an important role, be it in the form of negative reinforcement or punishment, or through trauma; in the sociocultural theory, what happens to the individual is much less important than what happens at a macroscopic level. Both sociocultural and psychodynamic theories put weight on society’s rules and regulations, but while for the latter, this comes into play at around 6 years, with the advent of the Oedipus complex, for the former, this is the most important aspect of the formation of a person with unipolar depression; for behavior theory, the civilization is only a collection of positive or negative reinforcements on the individual, and has no importance in and of itself. Finally, all three theories highlight the importance of the earlier, formative years in the constitution of the personality.
In conclusion, unipolar depression is a psychological condition that, while reaching epidemic proportions, has been theorized differently by various schools of thought. While they agree that it entails a prolonged period of abnormal sadness which significantly affects daily life, the etiology is varied. Sociocultural theory emphasizes the social and cultural aspects of unipolar depression, while psychodynamic theory rests its case on unconscious motivations and drives, and behaviorism believes it is about positive and negative reinforcements for those actions. While these three theories are only approximations to the truth, they all cast light on different aspects of the cause of this psychological condition.