Do we just need a vacation?

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!

5 thoughts on “Do we just need a vacation?

  1. I was also skeptical of the depression animal model used because of it looked so much like anxiety, and while reading an article preparing to lead a discussion next week I stumbled across an interesting finding. Here’s a little teaser for next week (that I’m not going to explain and ruin for you now): in the mesolimbic dopamine reward circuit, elevated function in one area of the nucleus accumbens caused depression-like symptoms in rodents, while reduced function of the same area caused anxiety-like behavior. It seems we can separate the two after all!


  2. LOVE THAT AD!! too funny!
    I think that questioning whether serotonin is the best neurotransmitter to focus resources on for depressed individuals is great. I especially like that you referred back to the ketamine info that was shared in class. I think it is really curious that it would work so immediately in comparison to the antidepressants that are currently on the market. But why? Perhaps there are parts of the brain/neurotransmitters that are more integral in depression. Maybe our treating serotonin is only getting at the problem in a very roundabout way…


  3. Good points there Natasha.

    In response to :”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? ”

    Denmark is ranked as the “Happiest Nation in the World” and the climate of the country is far from being sunny and warm. For two weeks in November, the Danes had a total of 3 hours of direct sunlight. Plus, day light in the winter(which is usually an overcast kind of gray light) is only from around 8 a.m. to 430 p.m. Its a dark, cold place. Yet, researchers have cited their culture as the most content. While sun and warmth help alleviate those winter blues, perhaps it is the pressure our culture imposes on people and the stress of everyday life that makes depression a leading mental illness.


  4. You picked out some of the great points in Solomon’s article and I appreciate your thoughts on them. This article was really an eye-opener to what being clinically depressed really feels like. There is just no black and white to the symptoms or the medication. I wish a vacation would solve all of our problems… I would really appreciate a prescription for a 2 week vacation to Hawaii…


  5. When reading this article I too thought immediately of Denmark. When I was there last semester I interviewed Danes regarding the topic of happiness for one of my classes. I found that it was not so much that they rated themselves as happier, but more that they were content with an overall lower level of happiness. Their culture told them that it was ok to by an 8 when the US tells us we have to be a 10. So maybe its not the sunshine at all (or lack of sunshine), but our cultures having different definitions of what happy should look like.


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