The Many Possible Causes of Depression
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There is much research showing the possible causes of depression, but as more research comes in, it is proving to be an incredibly complex condition with multiple sources. Depression presents itself as set of symptoms, but the underlying causes are numerous. According to current research, depression can be caused by many factors such as poorly functioning or underdeveloped areas of the brain, low neurotransmitter levels, gene expression, temperament of the individual, stress and the associated chemical changes, early loss of a loved one, trauma, medical problems, biological clock malfunctions, and side effects from medication. Not only can each of these things contribute to depression individually, they can combine into more than one underlying cause making depression somewhat difficult to treat. It is hoped with further research that more individualized treatments will become available.
As new technologies have emerged, imaging of the brain has allowed researchers to take a close look at the inner workings of the nervous system, and it’s various structures. We now know which regions of the brain control functions such as mood, memory, senses, and speech. This insight gives scientists a look at which regions contribute to depression.
The Brain & Neurotransmitters
Research published in The Journal of Neuroscience show a smaller hippocampus in some depressed people which causes lower production of new neurons in the area. This may explain why antidepressants take time to work; they flood the brain with neurotransmitters that encourage the formation of new neurons. It is theorized that a lack of neurons contributes to depression more than a lack of neurotransmitters. This theory has been validated in animal research in a study published in Science in 2003 that found that when neuron growth was blocked antidepressants failed to improve mood. Despite theories that neurons play a larger role than neurotransmitters, research does show that if the relationship between neurotransmitters and neurons is disrupted or broken, then depression may result. There are several types of neurotransmitters that have varying functions. Many of them regulate mood, sleep, and blood pressure (and, therefore, anxiety). If the mechanisms that tell neurons to start and stop sending particular neurotransmitters are faulty, we experience many physiological responses that affect mood.
Genetics plays a role in depression as well. Many specific genes regulate and affect mood. Those genes are turning on and off all the time working to keep things in our bodies going smoothly. In genetically predisposed individuals, stressful life events can disrupt this process, leading to the wrong genes being activated at the wrong time and negatively affecting mood. There are also specific gene markers that show up among depressed people, which explains why mood disorders such as depression often run in families. Although genes play an important role, many cognitive psychologists theorize that temperament is equally important. We tend to develop ideas about the world that lead to expectations we resort to when we experience stress. Thus, the initial temperament can lead to a depressive state. It is thought that temperament can be taught, and worldview shifted to help relieve depression.
Stress plays a major role in individuals who are predisposed to depression. Stress doesn’t cause depression in everyone, but it does add and potentially worsen it in those who are already prone to it. This may be because of the chemical changes that occur in the body during stressful situations. When stressed, cortisol is released as part of the “fight or flight” response. Cortisol works with neurotransmitters in the brain. If there is a problem with the way the body produces and releases cortisol, it can negatively affect the production and usefulness of neurotransmitters leading to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Loss of Love
Losing a loved one at an early age or experiencing trauma such as abuse also leads to a higher prevalence of depression in adulthood. Researchers believe that this is due to long lasting changes in brain functioning that leave the individual susceptible to depression. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that women who were abused as children had stronger stress responses and higher levels of stress hormones when performing stressful tasks than women who did not have abusive histories.
Vital Organ Function
There are also many medical problems that lead to depression and other mood disorders. It is well known that thyroid dysfunction can lead to mania (hyperthyroid) and depression (hypothyroid). Heart disease, stroke, endocrine disorders, cancer, and degenerative neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have also been linked to depression. The good news about depression due to a medical condition is that once the condition is treated, often the depression lifts.
Another possible cause of depression, especially seasonal affective disorder has been linked to issues with the circadian rhythm or biological clock that tells us when to sleep and wake. If melatonin is not being produced properly or being released by the body at the wrong time, individuals see a dip in mood that leads to depression. Often this occurs during the winter in affected individuals.
Side Effects of Medications
Sometimes depression is a side effect of prescribed medications. Some types of medication thought to do this are certain types of antimicrobials, antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals, heart and blood pressure medications, hormones, sedatives, and drugs prescribed for insomnia. That said; researchers disagree about how these drugs may affect individuals and whether or not they even play a role in depression or if they do, how much of a role they play.
As more research on depression comes in, our understanding of the disorder widens, but so do the questions. Depression is turning out to be a very complex disorder with multiple factors that combine together to affect the individual. Finding a treatment for each person suffering from depression is a difficult task because so many different aspects may be contributing to their mood. Hopefully, as scientific research reveals more information about the way these systems work, we will be better able to personalize treatments and see better results overall.
- Tina Fuster
I once took a Dale Carnegie course on basic Public Speaking, and the leader of the course was a senior citizen that was teaching the course simply because she loved the course and loved people. I don’t remember much about the course, but I do remember one very important phrase, which she had us repeat over and over as an encouragement and a reminder to the us, the participants in the course. I guess it stuck with me because after 30 years I still remember it. The phrase was:
“If you act enthusiastic, you will be enthusiastic.” This is hard to express in the written form it was so much easier when she spoke it. Let me try again. “IF YOU ACT ENTHUSIASTIC YOU WILL BE ENTHUSIASTIC!” That was much better.
I don’t think that phrase can necessarily translate to everything, and I honestly don’t think that al people are depressed because they act depressed. In fact, I am the first one to say that the multitude of known factors in causing depression probably only scratches the surface of the reality.
However, I do believe that the principle of the process is accurate. If I want help, I must acknowledge that I need help. If I want help, I must seek help. Let me repeat that. IF I WANT HELP, I MUST ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I NEED HELP. IF I WANT HELP, I MUST SEEK HELP. Don’t forget it. Likewise, when we change our behavior, we can change the results that we produce in our lives. So, become aware, get ready, and take ACTION!
New Releases. (n.d.). Retrieved December 9, 2014, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/what-causes-depression.htm
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