Depression: Causes and Treatment
Author: Branden Sattler
From: East Meadow, NY, USA
Depression is one the worst psychiatric disorders a person can have. Depression causes
someone to feel constantly glum, lose their interest in activities they once enjoyed, lose their appetite, and experience suicidal thoughts. Depression is a very common mental disorder; it affects one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year and one in every 6 people (16.7%). What exactly causes this mental disorder and what are effective ways to combat depression? Below are the answers to those questions.
According to an epidemiology study, about 40-50 percent of depression cases are caused by genetics, which makes depression a highly heritable disorder. However, the specific genetic makeup that causes the risk of depression to increase has no yet been discovered. Also, vulnerability to depression is only partially genetic. Depression is still a stress-related disorder. Nevertheless, stress alone does not cause depression, and most people don’t experience depression after a really stressful experience. Depression is caused by interactions between the environment around and our genetic makeup. Thus, genetics play a huge role in causing depression even though we don’t know which genes are responsible.
Studying neurological causes of depression is harder to do than with other neurological disorders (ex: Parkison’s disease and Huntington’s disease) because it is not clear which region of the CNS (central nervous system) or the brain has been damaged to cause depression. However, there are certain studies to prove that lack of blood flow to certain areas of the brain correlates with having depression based on brain imaging studies, anatomic studies of the brain, and understanding the different functions of the brain as they correlate with the symptoms of depression. Brain imaging studies measures the amount of blood flow to certain areas of the brain by showing the areas with the most blood flow as “lighting up” or “glowing.” Brain imaging studies have concluded that people who suffer from depression are less likely to have blood flow to certain areas such as the prefrontal and cingulate cortex, hippocampus, striatum, amygdala, and thalamus. These findings were confirmed when anatomical brain studies concluded that people with depression have abnormalities in these regions. Some of these abnormalities include a reduction in the number of glial cells, the cortex volume, and the size and effectiveness of the neurons.
The findings in the previous paragraph are also supported by comparing the symptoms of depression with the functions of the damaged brain areas. For example, one of the symptoms of depression is a worsened memory; since the hippocampus is the part of the brain that deals with memory, it makes sense that that part of the brain is damaged in depressed people. Another symptom of depression is a lack of motivation or interest to participate in activities you once enjoyed. The amygdala is responsible for stimulating emotional learning and memory. The fact that this area of the brain is damaged makes sense because people with depression do not feel the pleasure and reward of doing their favorite activities.
Ways to Combat
Considering the two factors that cause depression above, the main way to combat depression is to take antidepressants. I know this may have sounded obvious, but I am going to tell you why they are important. As mentioned earlier, depression is often caused by the deterioration in certain parts of the brain. One form in which the brain deteriorates is that neurons are less likely to be effective. Antidepressants allow for more regeneration of axon terminals in the cerebral cortex (the main thinking part of the brain), which allows the neurons in the cerebral cortex to be more effective in firing neurotransmitters (chemical messages). Thus, the risk of depression decreases. Also, antidepressants allow for greater plasticity of the neurons in the hippocampus (memory part of the brain). This reduces depression because deterioration of the hippocampus is often linked to depression. Stressors, as mentioned before, often causes depression when combined with the other causes above. Thus, if you have a minor case of depression, therapy sessions are proven to help as well as taking antidepressants. With all of this, it is important to remember that depression is mainly a genetic and neurobiological disease that requires antidepressants to help cure. I hope I answered any questions you had about depression!
Author: Branden Sattler
Branden is a rising junior at East Meadow High School. He has a passion for psychology and wants to understand how different aspects of life affect a person’s emotional well-being.
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