It is enlightening but perhaps discouraging to realize that sadness
and its associated depressive symptoms can have many causes. We
will review the major theories.
The result of losses
While this is no profound theory, it is more far reaching than you
might at first realize. Depression is, of course, the normal, natural
reaction when we lose something we value. A friend or loved one dies
and we grieve. A loved one leaves us and we hurt, we miss them and
want them back. We fail to reach some important goal and we cry. Mc
Coy (1982) lists several triggers to teenage depression: death,
separation from a parent by divorce or work, loss of friends by
moving, loss of love, loss of dependency and childhood by growing up
and joining a peer group, loss of confidence when criticized, loss of
traditional values that are not replaced by other guides to living, loss
of health, loss of goals (especially after working long and hard for
some achievement), poor communication with family, family conflicts,
and having depressed parents.
A recent survey at the Medical College of Virginia found that
interpersonal losses (death, marital problems, loss of a friend, job
loss) remarkably increased the risk of clinical depression in women.
But only about 25% of depressed persons have suffered such losses
and not everyone who does becomes seriously depressed. Martin
Seligman and Gloria Steinem suggest the Baby Boomers grew up
expecting the world to be a wonderful place but instead are finding it
to be cold and unsupportive. As economic conditions worsen, there is
no safety net when we fail--no close family, no helpful neighbors, no
concerned co-workers, no church, no kind and gentle government.
True, life today has its stresses, but is it more stressful than marrying
as a teenager, settling on a remote homestead in 1830, running the
risk of death in childbirth or in infancy, and raising a family in the
wilderness? I think not.
Yapko (1992) makes the point that your value system and life style
(reflecting childhood, friends, and family background) affect your
outlook on every event in your life and on everything you do. Your
values determine what you see as important and unimportant, as good
and bad, as normal and abnormal, and so on. Furthermore, anything
you value becomes a potential threat--something you would hate to
lose. Examples: If you value being cared for by loved ones (to the
extent of being dependent), a scary loss might be graduating from
college or getting a divorce. If you value your looks highly, you will
lose a lot over the years. If you value financial success but can't
achieve it, that is a loss. If you value a close relationship with your
children, but they are taken away by divorce, it may be a terrible loss.
On the other hand, if you do not value day-by-day some activity (and,
thus, don't devote time to it) but psychologically you need it, you have
also experienced the loss of something important. Examples: a person,
who throws him/herself into either work or child care and avoids the
other activity, may only find out years later what he/she has lost.