Depression is a complex affective disorder which causes a variety of symptoms such as cognitive (impaired concentration), emotional (feelings of guilty), behavioural (social withdrawal) and biological (insomnia).
Finding an suitable treatment for depression depends on using the appropriate explanation.. The Biological approach assumes that depression is caused by a physiological malfunction in the body and can be cured by rectifying the malfunction. Specifically the approach looks at the levels of serotonin in the brains synapses and how these can be disrupted if too many enzymes (MAOase) are produced so more serotonin is broken down than is necessary or if serotonin is not taken in by the reuptake protein. Wender et al (1976) compared the psychiatric evaluations of 71 adult adoptees with depression, to their biological relatives and found that relatives of the adoptees were eight times more likely to have that same disorder. This suggests that biology is a major contributing factor to the development of depression because the disorder was inherited without any noticeable influences within the environment.
An advantage of this explanation is drug treatments can be used, independently of therapy. This alone should be able to cure the patients depression, in a relatively quick and less time consuming method. However, a disadvantage is that drug treatments can have considerable side effects which may discourage the patient from adhering to their medical regime. For example Monoamine Oxidise Inhibitors (MAOIs) can react with specific common foods, such as cheese, to cause an increase in blood pressure and heart failure.
The Behavioural approach assumes that depression is caused by individuals reaction to a specific environmental factor. Lewinnsohn (1974) thought that depression was a result of operant conditioning, where a person experiences a loss (of a loved one) and means they get less positive reinforcement because they used to make the person feel good, leading to depressive symptoms. Others may become initially concerned about the depressed person and this creates positive reinforcement and a reason for the person to continue with their depressed behaves.
The same researcher tested this theory by comparing the amount of positive reinforcement received by depressed and non-depressed patients. The participants completed two questionnaires, twice a day for thirty days. The first was a list of words and the participant had to select which represented their mood (for example “blue”) and this indicated how many symptoms of depression they were experiencing. The second questionnaire recorded how many pleasant activities (such as yoga) the participants took part in. A significant correlation was found between the mood rating of participants and taking part in pleasant activities. This shows that reinforcement from pleasant activities is linked to a lesser likelihood of developing depression. Depression can then be treated by reinforcing non-depressive behaviour with a “coping with depression course”. Lewisohn (1990) found that after taking the course only 57% of participants still met the DSM criteria of depression compared with the control group, of which 95% of the participants were still depressed.
An advantage of the behavioural approach to explain depression is it reduces the causes of depression down to environmental stimuli, so once the trigger for depression is found it can be treated effectively. However, further research is needed to identify the individual differences between participants, other than positive reinforcement, which could be the cause of depression. As yet, the behaviourist explanation is not extensive enough to be trusted as valid.
Overall, I think that both approaches to explaining depression are too reductionist to be used alone, because the biological approach does not take into account how the depression affects the patients emotions. The behavioural approach fails to recognise that drugs can be effective, because it only considers the environments influence on an individual, when empirical evidence has shown that drugs can be effective. A combination of explanations is needed in order to produce an effective treatment for each patient.