The Science Behind Depression

Depression is a mental disease, which is often dismissed by parents and friends, causing the victim to doubt whether they need geniune medical help or they are just “negative” in general. Many parents may see depression in their teenagers and refer to their condition as a mood, or phase. But what happens when you neglect a disease, be it physical or mental, and let yourself drown until the phase is over? In the case of clinical depression being ignored, you often only get worse and feel more hopeless as time goes by. Just as any other disease would progress. Leaving your depression untreated can lead to behaviours that would be harmful, including turning to relief through addiction or suicide. Other outcomes could be interference with everyday activities, lack of sleep or too much sleep, alongside excessive eating or very poor appetite, causing other health problems to the patient.

Depression affects everyone differently, so it’s worth the time to research all the different ways and reasons it can affect an individual, most of which will be discussed here. The list of the most common symptoms of depression mentioned by the NHS.uk include:

  • continuous low mood and sadness
  • hopelessness and helplessness
  • low self-esteem
  • feeling fearful
  • feeling of guilt
  • irritablility and intolerance of others
  • no longer having interest in things one used to enjoy (anhedonia)
  • difficulty in making decisions
  • lack of enjoyment in life
  • feeling anxious/worried
  • suicidal thoughts or the urge to be harmed

Some individuals will relate to a few of the symptoms, while others might suffer from all the symptoms. Depending on the cause of their depression, duration and intensity.

So what’s important here is to first understand what’s really behind the sadness. What’s really causing your low mood and lack of motivation to even be happy? Sadness is a part of life and everyone with capability to experience emototions will come across it, but when it becomes continuous and paralysing, the cause is often deeper than normal cases of sadness and laziness.

Everything in the body, and even in life itself, is best when it is in balance. Too much or too little of anything can have its consequences. In the case of sadness/happiness originating in the human body, hormones and neurotransmitters must be regulated. As for depression, an imbalance of a number of neurotransmitters and hormones has shown to be the chemistry behind this paralysing sadness. So let’s blame the brain chemistry, if we need something to blame. The common neurotransmitters (big three) affected include:

  • Serotonin, which is involved in mood, emotion, sleep, appetite, behaviour, memory, and sexual desire and function.
  • Dopamine, involved in rewards, pleasure (euphoria), motor function, preservation, compulsion.
  • Norepinephrine, involved in arousal, sleep, attention, and mood.

Other hormones include:

Genetics also play a role in an individual’s likelihood to develop depression following a stressful event or time period. Scientists have provided evidence of a variant of a gene which is greatly involved in serotonin level regulation in the brain, a variant of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTT). Another two genes identified in depression are CLC6A15 and RNF123.

In the case of depression and suicidal thoughts, scientists have identified five genes involved in suicidal brains. Gene variants which are associated with survival, growth and connectivity of neurons. As well as these, scientists have observed physical differences in the brains of depressed individuals in comparison to “healthy” controls. Patients with history of chronic depression have presented with smaller hippocampus brain regions (associated with memory) and thinner than usual right cortex, involved in mood.

Drug based treatments for depression target the chemical imbalances, which will be discussed in the next post, to look at the side effects of mainly the most commonly prescribed antidepressant drug, Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor.



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