Depression: A Scientific Approach
“Of all the major illnesses, mental or physical, depression has been one of the toughest to subdue.” – Dr. Richard A. Friedman.
Millions of teens and adults all over the world are affected by depression every year and it may be a more complex problem than we thought.
With over 350 million people affected by depression worldwide, it’s no doubt an incredibly real and serious problem, but what exactly is going on inside a depressed person?
“There might be something genetic about it”, Beverly Lehr, health sciences clinical professor and staff psychologist from the University of San Francisco. She talks about how depression might actually be hereditary and is usually misconstrued as a disease “you can just get.”
In the past, depression was often described as simply a chemical imbalance in the brain. In recent years, scientists began to notice that the brain cell growth and connections actually may play a larger roll. The hippocampus region in particular controls memory and emotion and the longer a person has been depressed, the smaller the hippocampus becomes. The cells and networks literally deteriorate.
Stress may actually be a main trigger in the increase of new neurons in this area of the brain. Interestingly, many modern drugs have an indirect effect on the growth of brain cells. This is likely why serotonin-based drugs seem to help some patients, but not for the reasons we once thought. Instead, they promote the release of other chemicals which ultimately stimulate neurogenesis.
Some scientists now believe the focus should be on drugs which directly affect neurogenesis. However, while your neurons and chemicals may be the direct influencers, many genetic factors have been discovered as well. Every part of your body is controlled by genes. “If the genes get it wrong, they can alter your biology in a way that results in your mood becoming unstable.” Harvard Health Publications explains. Knowing this, we are informed how genes make biological processes and how they can alter your biology.
Obviously, more research needs to be conducted in order to prove that depression could have be hereditary.
“They are considered usually to be vulnerable to depression because of family history,” Lehr said. She explains how depression is a disease involving genetics. This is imperative because you can see if your parents or grandparents had depression and be better prepared. One particular study found that in a variation in the serotonin transporter gene leaves individuals more vulnerable to depression.
So while the true cause or causes of depression are yet to be identified, it is important to remember that depression is a disease with a biological basis along with psychological social implications. It is not simply a weakness that somebody should get over or even something we have a say in. Just like heart disease or cancer, shedding light onto the subject is of the utmost importance in order to bring funding and proper research.
Psychologist David Burns is quoted as saying, “Depression can seem worse than terminal cancer.” He tells us this because most people with cancer feel loved, have hope, and have self-esteem.
Jan Silver Maguire, who lives with depression, shares, “I’ve come to understand that recurrent depression is my Achilles’s heel. There is also a strong biological component in my family; my mother and sister both struggled with severe postpartum depression. I know that medication alone is not the cure-all so I’ve expanded my arsenal of coping skills. I exercise, try to eat healthfully, volunteer, set boundaries like saying “no” when I need to, work on turning negative to positive self-talk, and cultivate an attitude of gratitude whenever possible. Some days are better than others, but that’s OK.”
Jan shares her depression story on Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA) and explains her journey through her recurrent depression. Jan’s story helps truly understand some important information. She talks about how there is a strong biological component in her family which goes to show that depression stands on a biological basis.
“It pains me that there are still so many misconceptions about mental illness because it prevents so many people from seeking treatment,” she writes. “It’s your life and you absolutely matter.” Jan provides hope for people suffering with depression, stating that they can get help. This lets us know, that even Jan, knows that there is hope for anyone who has depression. People shouldn’t stop when there is a better way to solve the issue.
Although depression cannot actually be cured without medicine and more research, studies do show that just by saying ‘hi’ to a depressed person can make their day better. Try to say hi to someone who you know is not feeling the happiest in their lives. It is hard for people struggling with depression. Every aspect of life can be impacted.
Marisa is a 7th grader in California. This is an edited version of a class assignment.