Nature v. Nurture is Everywhere!

This post is slightly off-topic, but it’s been on my mind all day and has several connections to what we’ve been talking about in class re. depression.  I’m in the class Teaching for Special Needs (with Hannah), and today in class we were talking about mental retardation.  Our teacher, while quoting our textbook, discussed how 25% of the cases of mental retardation result from biological causes, while the other 75% (!!) of cases are assumed to result from “environmental” factors.  These are both broad terms, and I think that’s part of the problem.  I could not believe that only 25% of the people with mental retardation can trace their disability back to biology.  I came to the conclusion that the statistic implies the ability to pinpoint a specific biological cause, such as hypoxia or chromosomal abnormalities.  Even though I know I have more of a psychological perspective than a biological one, (and I feel somewhat hypocritical writing this post right now..), I think that the “environmental factors” category is deceiving in the fact that biological roots lie within that category.  As the article that Natasha posted proposed, childhood trauma can lead to depression by negatively impacting typical brain development.  Similarly, one of the environmental influences listed in our reading was child abuse/neglect.  Following the line of thought from the author from Natasha’s article, child abuse could cause a malfunction in children’s brains, presumably leading to mental retardation.  I recognize that my inability to accept this statistic is largely based on societal beliefs that disabilities such as Down Syndrome and Autism are accurate and adequate representations of all mental retardation cases.  Even with this recognition, though, it’s hard for me to view mental retardation as a disability that can be developed during childhood, as opposed to being fixed at birth.

Thinking about this led me back to our discussion from Monday about preventative treatment for depression.  As Mike mentioned, yes, we do give preventative testing and caution to people who are phenylketonuric, and a lot of us felt that it was different from depression because of its certainty.  Someone with PKU will react adversely to phenylalanine, whereas someone with a polymorphism that places them at an elevated risk for depression will not necessarily develop depression.  Even people with the polymorphism who experience traumatic or stressful life events do not necessarily develop depression.  It seems like the worry we had was in the prescription of preventative medication should it be unnecessary.  I wonder what the harm in that would be?  It’s impossible to know, since a foolproof preventative medication is not yet known.  Interesting how I (and others) felt more supportive of encouraging/providing some sort of interventional/preventative therapy for at-risk people than of antidepressant medication.  I validated that to myself by telling myself that therapy would be beneficial in other areas of life (learning how to cope with stress, grief, etc.)… but antidepressants would possibly help with that, too.  Look, we still have the stigma against medication.  Maybe a valid one, and personally, I certainly wouldn’t want to take medication unless it was necessary, but a stigma nonetheless.  The experience of coping is a valuable one, and lies behind a lot of my hesitancy towards medication, but only so far, because there are TONS of people whose despair is way beyond coping mechanisms and requires medication.  I more just use this philosophy when thinking about how we have normed happiness levels at an exceedingly high point, and thus depressive symptoms appear more and more plentiful.  This ties in again with my class- at one point in time, an IQ of below 85 was the cut-off point for mental retardation- that included about 12% of the population and was only one standard deviation from the mean, 100.  That did not last long, for obvious reasons, but a similar situation seems to be arising here- the cut-off point for depression is rising, and is exponentially consuming percentages of our population.

3 thoughts on “Nature v. Nurture is Everywhere!

  1. I really liked this post, it brought up a lot of good points from our stigma of medicine to the rising expectations of happiness to the benefits of coping. I think that, for me, there is not so much a stigma for medicine, but that I would rather fight through the pain and deal with it naturally. I’m not a huge organic, all natural person, but as far as things like pain medication I would rather my body try to figure it out on it’s own rather than pumping it with chemicals to make myself feel better. Maybe that is stigma but I feel like medication should be a last resort.


  2. Therapy is a means of social interaction, albeit you are paying someone to listen to you, which is more a more natural method of treatment for depression. Antidepressants, on the other hand, are lab-created chemical pills produced by large pharmeuctical companies. Perhaps our cultural stigma against these drugs is, in part, due to the large corporations that create these products and their capitalistic schemes to increase revenue. We are also skeptical of taking unnatural drugs to alter chemicals in our brain. Who knows, maybe these pills are just a big part of the pharmaceutical companies’ brain washing scheme.

    Furthermore, the word drug alone has such negative connotations, affiliated with addiction, white lab coats, and dark alleyways, so that, unless your life depends on it, the aim is to avoid all medications possible.


  3. Interesting comments and a great entry, Hannah. This drug stigma is interesting to me. I certainly subscribe to the ‘as little drugs as possible’ strategy but I definitely seem to be much more lenient about the use of drugs, even in a preventative way. I think I spend a lot of my energy trying to figure how this stuff works and if I can figure something it out then it may very well mean that there may be a kind of pharmaceutical strategy. Is the food we eat any different from drugs, really? 🙂


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