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The Cycle of Depression

Depression has a dangerous tendency to build upon itself. When depression saps your confidence and motivation, it’s tempting to isolate or do the bare minimum. As a result, normal life tasks such as work and relationships start to fall by the wayside. Eventually, doing the bare minimum creates new problems, which cause stress and worsening depression. The cycle continues, stronger than before.

The Cycle of Depression handout illustrates how the symptoms of depression encourage maladaptive behaviors, which exacerbate stressors, and lead back to worsening symptoms. The concept is made easy to understand with a diagram, summaries of each step in the cycle, and examples.

Conceptualizing depression as a cycle is helpful when discussing the benefits of behavioral activation and challenging irrational thoughts. These techniques are easily framed in terms of "breaking the cycle". This worksheet can also be valuable as an introductory psychoeducation tool, as it gives context to the various symptoms and consequences of depression.

For more general psychoeducation about depression, see the Depression Info Sheet.

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1. Unützer, J., & Park, M. (2012). Older adults with severe, treatment-resistant depression. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 308(9), 909-918.

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