The human body is amazing. Ask your doctor when he’s not focussing on your symptoms; a surgeon; or any health professional and they will tell you the same thing, “The human body is amazing”. Despite having all these great scientific minds and undertaking research running into billions of dollars, some biological factors of the human body remain an enigma.
Did you know that your eyes can alert you when your body is extremely cold? Did you know that (a mind boggling) 300 million red blood cells die every minute in your body? Did you know that your heart produces enough energy in one hour to lift a ton of steel? I also read in an article on Yahoo (can’t seem to find the link now, sorry) that all the computers in the world would have to be assembled to process the information released every second by your brain. Pretty impressive stuff!
But wait a minute. Could this overly impressive human body be at fault for causing one of the most dangerous mental health problems of our time? Is depression caused by a chemical imbalance? There are various factors at play here:
Role of the Media
Nowadays, people seem to look to the media to provide them with knowledge as opposed to looking to the media for information on current affairs. The role of the media is to set the agenda for the public to discuss. Unfortunately, many people see the news and take the information provided ‘as is’ without questioning its veracity or the intention behind it. It is this situation that has led to the belief that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance.
Role of Advertisers
When pharmaceutical companies analyse data, they look at the data with the intention of converting whatever medicinal drugs they have produced for a type of illness into a best-selling product. It is then the duty of the advertising companies to play on people’s fears and emotions to convince them that a certain drug will help them. The result is an attempted manipulation into believing that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance.
The truth isn’t really that simple. Depression is a complex mental health issue. The thing I hate about this kind of misinformation is that it deprives so many people of the courage to stand up to depression. After all, how can you fight against your own body? You fail to take responsibility and start wondering whether there is a drug that will ‘fix’ you.
Depression is caused by a lot of factors: our family’s mental health history; genetic vulnerability; the type of thoughts we have; how we relate to our environment; some types of medication; and our reactions to various chronic stresses in our lives.
Brain imaging scans have shown that depressed people’s hippocampus is smaller by about 10 per cent. The stresses in our lives prevent neurons from being produced in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is part of the limbic system, which includes the amygdala and the thalamus. It is this system which is responsible for emotions, behaviour and mood regulation. Depressed people have a high concentration of stress hormones such as cortisol and noradrenaline.
This is where drug companies come in. Here, take some anti-depressant. The medication boosts development of neurons and improves the nerve cell connectivity. However, these drugs also have a variety of side-effects such as: nausea, stomach-aches, heart arrhythmias, hallucinations and loss of coordination.
Is this really worth it? This is the same issue that led actor Rob Schneider to say that the late Robin Williams committed suicide because the medication given to him was known to cause suicidal thoughts.
What about Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy has been heralded as having positive results in dealing with depression. Psychotherapists believe that depression is a learned behaviour. It is based on the behavioural theory of depression that says that a lack of positive reinforcement or meaningful, valued and rewarding activities leads to feelings of depression. These feelings are then multiplied when a person reacts dysfunctionally and exhibits avoidant behaviour, which, in turn, reinforce the symptoms of depression. Therefore, cognitive behavioural therapists try to help people ‘unlearn’ these negative trains of thought that lead to depression.
According to Robert C. Malenka, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine and a Brain & Behaviour Research Foundation Scientific Council Member, “This idea of chemical imbalance has been useful…but in truth, the… idea is no longer adequate.” He suggests trying newer ideas to try to solve problems relating to the brain. Please read the entire post here.
So what have we learnt so far?
The brain is a complex structure and depression is a complex issue. One moment you think you have found the solution, and the next, you realize the solution is not that simple. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. We all have different life experiences. Therefore, everyone suffering from depression goes through their own personal hell. The solution to these issues cannot be applied across the board.
Is depression caused by a chemical imbalance?
From the information I’ve gathered, I believe the message is that our behaviour and reaction to acute stress is responsible for causing chemical changes in our brains, thus, leading to depression. Perhaps, you have taken a different view. Let me know what you think.
There are many people suffering from depression in our world today. As I’ve said before, the stresses of life can weigh on people in unimaginable ways. How you react to an issue is not the same way someone else will react to it. Just because a problem seems easy to you does not mean that your friend, brother, mother, sister, father, cousin or neighbour will respond the same way. It can be overwhelming at times. Some people, even strong men, break down and cry. That’s what life does to you sometimes.
In the point of despair or an inability to react positively to negative situations, depression takes hold and turns our world upside down. It is a great battle. A formidable foe. There are some of you who know someone who is depressed. One of you, perhaps, suspects that someone they know is depressed. As always, I urge you to reach out and stand with that person. Listen to them and try to get them some help.
If there is anything you have learnt from this post, I hope it is this: Get informed on the real facts about depression and mental health. There are people who have selfish motives and they are relying on you to not know the truth. It’s only money that is important to them. But we know better. What value can you place on a life? How much money can replace the pain of losing a loved one or a friend to depression?
Get informed and spread the word!