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Biological and Cognitive Approaches to Depression

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 1641 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Analyse the biological and cognitive approach to depression

We will be discussing and evaluating the cognitive and biological approach to depression and what treatments are available. Depression is known as a common mental disorder and its effects can cause many individuals to feel desolated, lose interest or pleasure in daily activities, the individual will be remorseful and have feelings of low self-esteem, losing sleep or appetite, impoverished concentration. In accordance to the office for national statistics, “In 2014, 19.7% of the population in the United Kingdom aged 16 and over showed symptoms of depression, a 1.5% increase from 2013, this percentage was greater among females (22.5%) than males (16.8%)”.[1] (Ian Macrory, 2016). Many people think depression is not important and not a real-life genuine health problem, according to official statistics, Depression is one of the major components of suicide, it is “estimated that 6,213 suicides took place in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in 2017.” (Ian Macrory, 2016) Many individuals agree that depression is not a sign of being vulnerable or fragile. With the correct treatment and care, many individuals with depression are able to make a full recovery and move on with their lives.

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The cognitive approach towards depression, suggests that people with depression tend to have a pessimistic view of the world, in theory this is called a negative schema. it is believed to have been acquired during childhood. The different factors vary such as criticism by peers and peer rejection and even feelings of self-worth. These factors are usually activated when a new situation arises which resembles the original encounter of when the schema was learned. Professor Aaron Beck a psychiatrist from America illustrated how becoming depressed works by creating three defective points (Schemas) which would control peoples thinking. One of the schemas would be self-worth, the individual would have feelings of inadequacy that they don’t fit in at all. Self esteem would be another schema and would result in the individual thinking of all his/her experiences are failures or defeats, the last schema is future, the individual’s future is pointless. Altogether all of the themes mentioned are part of the Negative Cognitive Triad, when these beliefs are present in someone’s cognition, depression is very likely to occur (if it hasn’t already occurred). Beyond the negative content of dysfunctional thoughts, these beliefs can also warp and shape what someone pays attention to. Aaron Beck asserted that depressed people pay selective attention to aspects of their environments that confirm what they already do know. This failure to pay attention properly is known as faulty information processing. Particular failures of information processing are very characteristic of the depressed mind. One example would be that people with depression, would exhibit choosy attention while gathering information, which indicates to the individual’s negative expectations. Ellis took a different approach from Beck to explaining depression, started to explain that good mental health is the result of rational thinking and allows people to be happy and pain free, whereas depression is the result of irrational thinking. (Studymode, 2013)

Ellis planned a A-B-C three stage model, to explain how irrational thoughts could lead to depression. A is the activation of the event, when an event occurs. B is for beliefs, your personal belief is your analysis of an ongoing event, which can be either rational or irrational. Consequences is the last model, “rational beliefs lead to healthy emotional outcomes whereas irrational beliefs lead to unhealthy emotional outcomes. One strength of the cognitive explanation for depression is its application to therapy. The cognitive ideas which have been used to develop effective treatments for depression, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. These therapies give an attempt to identify and challenge negative irrational thoughts, success rates are high as they have treated many people with depression and has provided further support to the cognitive explanation of depression. However, one weakness of the cognitive approach is that it does not explain the origins of the irrational thoughts and most of the research in this area is correlational. Therefore, we are unable to determine if negative irrational thoughts can cause depression, or whether a person’s depression leads to a negative mindset. It is possible that other factors, for example genes and neurotransmitters, can cause depression”.[2] (tutor2u, n.d.)

Biologically depression is based on the concept of that there is a natural cause towards depression, one theory would be that many individuals are more inclined to develop depression through their genetics. It is suggested that the 5-HTT gene was mutated and inherited. The 5-HTT gene is responsible for the production of serotonin. Family, twin and adoption studies have all helped to aid the role of the genetics in the advancement of depression. Gershon established that if a parent of a child had depression, that the child was then 2-3 times more likely to suffer from the disorder themselves. Twin studies, conducted by Wegner, found that children are 8 times more likely to develop depression if their biological parent also suffered than if their adoptive parent did. (Studymode, 2013)

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It is also suggesting that depression is widely shaped more by genetics rather than environmental factors. One disadvantage of using twin and family studies would be that the individuals who are taking part in this experiment are usually still sharing the same which could have more of an influence than the shared genes. Many chemicals in the brain are used as messengers to communicate with other parts of the body and different parts of the brain itself and also with the nervous system. These chemical messengers are called neurotransmitters, they are released and received by the brains nerve cells which are called neurons. Neurons are continuingly communicating with each other by exchanging neurotransmitters. This communication system is crucial so the brain can function correctly. There has been links from depression within the brain which creates problems with regard to the neurotransmitter’s serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Antidepressant medications which are used to die down the symptoms of depression are also known to act upon these particular neurotransmitters and their receptors. A strength of the biological approach to depression is that it can be deterministic. The reason why is because it is more than possible to treat individuals with abnormal behaviour. This explanation can aid in individuals living a better life. A disadvantage would be that it doesn’t cover the experiences (tutor2u, n.d.) of distress, thoughts and feelings and does not take the environmental factors into consideration of the events, as it is a genetic approach to depression. A different strength biologically which can be the results are easily measured quantitatively and precisely so the treatments available are more than effective in the long run and are proven to work.

To conclude we have analysed the biological and cognitive approach towards depression and we can say biologically, tests have been made and elements have been discovered with hormonal imbalances and genetics within depressed people. Biochemically a link has been discovered between a tie in neurotransmitter imbalances along with depression. One issue with an approach like this is that it can influence the correlation but not the causes, even though this could be a possible link, depression and negative serotonin levels may be caused by something else. Does depression cause low serotonin or does low serotonin cause depression? Another issue is that individuals that have depression can have a normal level of serotonin. It suggests there could be other factors and not just the biochemical imbalances of the brain, this should not be the complete answer to the causation of depression. Cognitively irrational thinking is the cause of depression and there would be sufficient evidence to support to support this theory. Evidence suggests that thoughts which are negative can lead to being depressed. One weakness of the cognitive approach is that the individual who is having irrational thoughts is believed to act upon the negative triad. The analysed approaches both have characteristics in defining depression as there are recordings of imbalanced serotonin levels and the negative triad would have a role to play for the individual as well. Both treatments are effective in the long run but there is also a chance of the individual having no motivation to get treatment if the negative triad is strong within the individual, therefore both approaches have a role to play in how depression can start. (tutor2u, n.d.)


  • Ian Macrory, 2016. Neasuring national well-being: life in the UK: 2016. Office for national statistics, 23 March.
  • MentalHelp.net, 2015. Cognitive theories of major depression – aaron beck. Rashmi nemade.
  • Samaritans, 2018. Sucide: Facts and Figures.
  • Studymode, 2013. Biological Approach to Depression. 9 April.
  • tutor2u, n.d. Explaining Depression – Ellis’ ABC Model.
  • tutor2u, n.d. Explaining Depression – Ellis’ ABC Model.


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