I know that the current topic is depression, however I think it is important to try and understand the parts of depression that are discussed far less than the ‘typical’ symptoms such as loss in affect, anhedonia, etc. To that point, I think that it would be worthwhile to explore the end result of some cases of depression (which, unfortunately, is more common than anyone would like it to be): suicide. In addition to suicide, I think it is also important to touch on self-injurous behaviors (such as cutting, burning, hair-pulling, biting, etc.). These actions, while uncomfortable and often difficult to think about, are fairly common things in individuals who have been diagnosed with depression. Of course, not everyone who is depressed exhibits these behaviors, and by that same token, not everyone who behaves this way is diagnosed with depression. However, these behaviors seem to be rather comorbid with this particular illness, and this is why I looked for some articles regarding the etiology of suicide as it relates to depression.
There was on article in particular that really caught my attention — in case you are interested in looking at the paper in more depth, here is the citation: Mann, J.J., Brent, D.A., & Arango, V. (2001). The neurobiology and genetics of suicide and attempted suicide: A focus on the serotonergic system. Neuropsychopharmocology, 24, 467-477.
Essentially, this article explored the possible biological and genetic contributors to individuals who have either attempted suicide (in vivo brain imaging) or who have committed suicide (post-mortem tissue studies). They focused their study on the serotonergic system, which I thought was particularly interesting, considering that many of the drugs used to treat depression involve this system (SSRIs). These researchers argue that there are genetic and biological precursors that lead an individual to be ‘more susceptible’ to suicide. They suggest that personality traits, such as impulsivity and aggression, in addition to genetic factors, set a person up to be more likely to attempt suicide. What do you think about this argument? In particular, I had some issue with how they presented their argument–as being more biological than psychological (essentially even bypassing the psychology involved all together). What if these in-brain changes are actually a result of the intial depression? What if their psychological responses to their environment are the ‘precursors’ to these biological changes, which then could perpetuate the issue (much like what we discussed in class-about the vicious cycle of depression).
Unfortunately, I feel like this article had few answers, if any. It leaves us in the same place we were in for the depression discussion, where there are so many different possibilities that it’s almost impossible to untangle the ’causes’ from the ‘symptoms’. Regardless, I think that the article is a step in the right direction–just like any sort of terminal illness, suicidality is a serious affliction, caused thousands (if not more) deaths per year the world over. Depression does not have to be a terminal illness. There can be ways to treat it, but we need to really put our resources into investigating this psychopathology in order to better understand the etiology, and to better help our loved ones and friends who may be at risk.