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The Science Behind Mental Health: Depression (10)

Like anxiety disorders, science explains the complexity of depression inside the brain. Depression is unfortunately defined by an incredibly misguided stigma; many believe that depression is simply a prolonged "bad mood" or negative perspective on life, but scientific research proves that there is so much more to understand.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of 2020, 322 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and it thus represents the main cause of disability throughout the world. Although depression is often associated with tragic life experiences, such as conflicts in relationships, many scientists believe it to be the product of chemical balance in the brain. This imbalance can also result from a number of potential causes, such as genetic vulnerability, side effects from certain medications, and/or other medical problems. There are also biological factors that are proposed to be responsible for depression; as discussed in my previous post about anxiety, some researches believe low serotonin levels in the brain lead to mood disorders such as depression itself, OCD, panic disorders, etc (let me know which of these you would like me to cover next). Low serotonin levels can often be caused by an inability of serotonin to reach receptor sites in the brain, or by tryptophan--the chemical that serotonin is derived from---deficiency.

In addition to biological and environmental causes of depression, genetic depression is another prominent form of depression that is currently being studied. It has been found that a child with a depressed parent is three times more susceptible to depression in comparison to a child without a depressed parent. This is supported by yet another study which has determined the serotonin transporter gene to leave people more vulnerable to depression. Two copies of this serotonin transporter gene, each from both of an individual's parent, can vary in length. If the serotonin transmitter gene is shorter, there is a greater risk for an individual to develop depression.

However, while such a wide range of potential causes of depression may seem overwhelming, there are medications that can help you overcome it! Princeton Neuroscientist Barry Jacobs, Ph.D. has found that depression may be caused by the suppression of new brain cells, which can be combatted by antidepressants known as SSRIs. SSRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) can heighten serotonin levels and therefore ease depression by stimulating the development of new brain cells.

As so many people are susceptible to depression, it is important to recognize the warning signs that you or the ones you love may be struggling. These include an unstable sleep schedule (can't sleep or oversleeping), poor appetite (over/undereating, sudden weight changes), difficulty concentrating, persistent feelings of sadness and loss of motivation that control your every day life, etc. Many people close to me have opened up to me about their experience with these signs that led to depression, and I have watched some of my dearest loved ones fight their battles. While I cannot speak for those who are struggling, I can vouch for the one thing in common that I every single one of my friends and family members have told me: Getting professional help for depression helps, a lot. Therapy is recommended, as it may help to speak to a medical professional about how you are feeling so you can gain a better understanding of what can seem completely out of your control. Further treatment from medical professionals are recommended, including different forms of medication that are prescribed specifically for the bettering of your own individual mental health.

It can be scary to open up to even the closest people to you about possibly having depression, let alone a medical professional, in fear of solidifying that you are struggling with a mental illness, or of people around you not understanding/validating what you are going through. I understand that it can often feel easier to suppress the reality that your struggles should receive medical attention, and get caught in the cycle of telling yourself that it's not that bad, and you can handle it on your own, because you don't to worry anyone around you. However, depression, like any other mental illness, can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, etc. Not only is understanding the proposed science behind depression helpful in understanding what you personally have been going through, but it can help us be a better help those around us who are silently struggling.

Do you have any questions about depression, or would you like me to provide any resources for obtaining medical attention? Let me know down below, and remember, if you are struggling, you are not alone!

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