Depression was always an illness that I thought I understood and new the symptoms of, and to varying degrees, I did. But I never knew how severe, painful, and life effecting this disorder was. I was very moved by Andrew Solomon’s account of depression, and what it is really like to experience it and be able to capture that. One of the things that struck me the most was that his depression finally “evaporated” after he spent some time in the “perfect Turkish sunshine”. This got me thinking about how the physical environment can affect mood and behavior, and lead me to question, are people in sunny and warm climates actually happier? Are they not depressed? Or is all we need a vacation? Research has shown that bright light can alleviate winter depression, but is it possible that it could assist in alleviating chronic depression? I looked at a study conducted by a gang of Austrians (Strauss-Blache et al.) titled “Time course of well-being after a three-week resort based on respite from occupational and domestic demands: carry-over, contrast and situation effects” and what they found was that whilst people’s mood was lifted during vacation, it slowly declined over a 4 week period after returning from vacation. So although a vacation might temporarily alleviate the symptoms, it’s possible that someone suffering from depression could slip into a deeper depression after returning. Needless to say, it would probably be pretty hard to even get someone with depression to go on a vacation in the first place.
Another point that struck me was “is it crazy to avoid the behaviors that make you crazy?” I certainly don’t think so. If someone is miserable in a certain place, depressed or stressed, it might be helpful to enter a new environment that is more conducive to their comfort levels in order to help them improve their mental health.
One thing that caught my attention during discussion on Wednesday was the relationship between dopamine and depression, since attention is more focused on serotonin. Perhaps there are other transmitters that could be modulated and actually help depressives as well? I tried doing a little research on this, and found myself reading an article about the relationship between glutamate and depression instead and how ketamine has immediate effects in alleviating symptoms of depression (something we touched upon in class!).
On a completely different note, and looking at the neurogenesis articles, I was kind of skeptical of the animal models, because I think it’s very hard to distinguish depression from stress and anxiety in animals. Although I do believe that antidepressants seem to be able to facilitate in neurogenesis, is it really depression that’s causing the degeneration in volume or is it just stress? I think this will be a tough question to answer, because most people with depression experience stress, and a lot of animal models of depression are stress-induced. What I think is most unfortunate about depression is that it affects many areas of the brain, and not just one, so it’s hard to target a chemical or procedure to many areas of the brain without causing many side effects. On this note, I’m also on the fence on whether or not people are being over-diagnosed with depression or not. There are obviously people who have major or chronic depression, like Solomon, but are there also people who are sad for a short period of time and see advertisements on TV by pharmaceutical companies and self diagnose themselves? It seems to be that it might be a little too easy to get these drugs these days… and on that note, I would like to leave you with an ad for curing depression 🙂
ps. sorry this is kind of a long one!