The Despair Depression Theory: What Is It And What Does It Offer?

Major depression is one of the most common mental health problems in the world. It is a disorder that generates great anxiety and suffering in those who suffer from it, and which is generally very disabling.

Throughout history, many authors have attempted to explain the causes or factors that lead to suffering from depression, in order to understand it and find ways to combat it. There are a number of theories and models that seek to analyze and explain this disorder.

One of them is the theory of depression through despair, Which we will explore throughout this article.

    Depression: description and general symptoms

    Major depression is one of the most prevalent mental disorders in the world, characterized by the continued presence (much of the day and almost every day for at least two weeks) of a sad mood and a loss of the ability to feel pleasure (Something known as anhedonia).

    Alongside these are other symptoms such as sleep and / or eating problems, weight changes, isolation, loss of desire to do things, fatigue, decreased mood. libido, passivity, trouble concentrating, suicidal thoughts and / or hopelessness.

    All this leads to great difficulties in the functionality of those who suffer from it, Who over time can become socially isolated and lose many social interactions with other people while reducing their work and / or school performance, which can lead to conflict and a deterioration in the quality of life of the child. patient.

    Passivity and hopelessness coexist with anhedonia and possible cognitive distortions of depressive patterns are two symptoms that make it more difficult to resolve the disorder by reducing the belief in its ability to improve. I hopelessness was seen as fundamental in major depression by some authors, among them the creators of the theory of the depression of despair.

    Despair and Depression Theory

    Despair Depression Theory is one of several explanatory models aimed at trying to provide an explanation of the reason or factors that affect the onset of depression.

    this model was proposed by Abramson, Metalsky and Alloy, Those based on a cognitivist conception of depression similar to but different from that of Aaron Beck. The desperate depression theory establishes the existence of a basic vulnerability that would make it easier for a person to fall into depression when faced with a stressful situation.

    This vulnerability is essentially cognitive in origin., And results in particular from cognitive inferential styles in which an internal, global and stable attribution of negative situations prevails, as well as in the anticipation of unfavorable situations and events resulting from the acts themselves.

    This style brings up the idea of ​​desperation, to assign responsibility for all the negative that might happen to the person and the lack of belief in one’s own ability to affect the outcome of events.

    Usually, the presence of these styles facilitates the onset of a type of depression called hopelessness, which is linked to specific symptoms which include sadness, fatigue, low self-esteem and possibly thoughts and thoughts of suicide.

    A state of mind arises close to learned helplessness, in which whatever is done, the subject will believe that he has no impact on the world and that he is unable to cope successfully with situations.

    This theory has been reviewed and criticized over time, but has been found to be particularly relevant in explaining the symptomatology of depression in adolescents, particularly in the case of young girls.

    Differences from Beck’s theory

    While the theory of Abramson and his associates and that of Beck are similar in many ways, the truth is that they have significant differences between them.

    One is precisely the fact that if for Beck the causes of depression lie activation of dysfunctional mental patterns derived from negative biases (Including ignoring the positive information and focusing on the negative), in the theory of depression due to hopelessness one would not be faced with strange inferences, but they make sense from learning vital that was able to generate them.

    The desperate depression theory values ​​that, in fact, depressed people they may have a less biased perception than the non-clinical population by not being influenced by the illusion of control.

    Also, while for Beck the cognitive patterns of the cognitive triad are the central elements of depression, for the theory of depression due to hopelessness, the feeling of hopelessness is the most central and the most important in explaining depression.

    Other influencing factors

    Subsequent research analyzed how various factors can also lead to some vulnerability. An example of this is the existence of the experience of abuse, Besides the comorbid existence of personality disorders (especially those who suffer from personality disorders of groups C and B).

    This model also establishes the existence of influencing biological factors, such as the presence of brain asymmetry or increased activity of the relative right anterior zone.

    Although these factors are not necessary for the existence of depression, they would be facilitators or risk factors for suffering from it.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Abramson, LY, Alloy, LB, Metalsky, GI, Joiner, ET and Sandin, B. (1997). Theory of Depression and Despair: Recent Contributions. Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Psychology, 2 (3): 211-222.
    • Calvete, I., Villardón, L., Estévez, A. and Espina, M. (2007). Despair as a Cognitive Vulnerability to Stress: Adaptation of the Cognitive Style Questionnaire for Adolescents. Anxiety and Stress, 13 (2-3), 215-227. [Online]. Available at:

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