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Talk About Depression
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Photo: Michael Gray
The disheveled-looking student spoke softly, with head down and shoulders slumped forward. “When I wake up in the morning, I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I just want to stay in bed all day. My parents have told me it’s all in my head. If I would just pray more and get closer to God, I would be fine.”

Maybe you have thought this about a person with depression, or heard someone else state this belief. If so, you are not alone. Surveys have shown that the majority of the general public thinks that mental illness, such as depression, is a result of emotional weakness, bad parenting, or sinful behavior. Many believe that the individual with depression can “choose” to change his or her behavior. Learning more about depression will hopefully help us to be more supportive and understanding.

For every 100 people born, 20 will experience some form of depression, which is the leading cause of disability in the United States. Depression represents the third-leading cause of disability worldwide.

It is true that depression is “in the head.” Evidence shows that the normal nerve cell pathways in the brain are disrupted in depression. Chemicals in the brain (such as dopamine, serotonin, and nor-epinephrine), called neurotransmitters, promote communication of information between the nerve cells in the brain, making it possible for us to think and have emotions. Any change in this complex process of communication between nerve cells (neurons), such as inadequate levels of essential chemicals (for example, serotonin) or barriers blocking the transmission, can result in depression.

Decreased Blood Flow

In addition to chemical imbalance, the brains of depressed people demonstrate decreased blood flow through the frontal lobe, further impairing normal brain activity.

Many studies of twins and adopted children have demonstrated that variations in the presence of genes clearly play a significant role in the incidence of depression. For example, researchers have found a gene involved in the brain’s use of serotonin. Variations in the length of this gene (short or long) affect how vulnerable individuals are for depression. Shorter versions of the gene seem to increase the likelihood that a person would experience depression in response to stressful events such as bereavement, romantic disasters, illnesses, or losing a job.

The role of inheritance in depression is very complex. Studies conclude that multiple genes, interacting with each other and with environmental factors, such as traumatic experiences early in life, medical conditions, and nutritional deficits, result in differing levels of vulnerability to depression. Carrying genes for depression does not guarantee a person will experience the illness.

Depression is a disease involving very complex brain activity. When depression occurs, the goal of treatment is to bring the chemical imbalance and brain activity back to normal function. Research is being done to better understand causes and treatments for depression. Just as with other common chronic diseases (such as heart disease and diabetes), treatment options for depression may include medications, as well as modifying environmental factors contributing to the individual’s depression, such as making lifestyle modifications.

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By Dynnette Hart. Reprinted with permission from Pacific Union Recorder, July 2008. Copyright © 2009 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.


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