Have you ever wondered why some people get depressed, and others don't?
Why do some people become completely crippled by depression, yet others seem to bounce back with little to no problem, even if both people went through the same experience?
Similar questions arise for PTSD, anxiety, and many other mental disorders, but today I want to focus on the origin of depression.
Isn't it odd that depression spikes in young adults between 18 and 25?
Yet even with that spike, not all 18-25-year-olds experience depression, so what's the difference?
Is it genetics?
Is it life experience and environment?
These are the question I'm going to attempt to answer today.
And maybe, by learning more about the origin of depression, we can uncover the best way to address and treat depression.
I'm going to address the neurochemistry of depression, environmental factors, and genetics to find out what is responsible for depression and how it can best be addressed.
The "nature vs. nurture" debate is still very much alive but has shifted in focus over the past decade or so.
Instead of, which one is it, the question is, which one is it more?
The prevailing conclusion is that both nature and nurture have a significant role to play and the extent to which a person is impacted by either is difficult to determine.
For this reason, I want to address the genetic (nature) aspect of depression first.
It has been long held that depression is not only genetic but it is simply biochemistry.
Some people are born with wonky brain chemistry and the right combination of drugs will get their chemistry balanced and you're all set, no more depression.
The origin of depression is solved, right?
The reality is more complicated; yes depression changes brain chemistry, but genetics isn't the 1:1 match people think it is.
The genetic component that contributes to the likelihood of depression is actually a gene in the DNA that responds to stress.
Some people can withstand multiple bouts of intense and dramatic life stressors and not fall into depression, while others can withstand only 1, maybe 2 before falling into a depression.
This specific gene is inherited, but it still doesn't pre-determine if a person will ever experience depression, it only increases the probability that a person MIGHT experience depression.
So, not exactly the clean-cut origin of depression many people think it is, but it does demonstrate the interrelatedness of stress and mental health.
So, genetics doesn't give us a direct answer but it does provide a good direction to look, namely, stress.
This is where we can take a much deeper look at neurochemistry to see if we can get closer to the origin of depression.
If stress increases the probability of depression, then what does stress do to the brain?
Well, short-term stress is actually quite good for us.
It improves our immune system, decreases inflammation, improves memory, and much more.
But, chronic stress, which can be caused by major loss, extreme life transitions, or constant stress from work, life, relationships, etc. is a very different story.
Chronic stress has the opposite effect of short-term stress.
It increases inflammation, weakens are immune system, damages memory, and much, much more.
But the thing to pay attention to in terms of finding the origin of depression is inflammation.
Most experts now agree that inflammation as a major, if not the primary source of depression.
It turns out that chronic stress, and therefore inflammation, creates and releases inflammatory cytokines which directly impact the function of every neurotransmitter that depression is associated with; serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine.
These cytokines, in short bursts, are very positive.
But when those cytokines are continually produced over long stretches of time the impact they have on those neurotransmitters results in loss of motivation and interest in activities, loss of energy and dysregulated sleep patterns, and inability to feel positive emotions and pleasure.
We call the combination of all those factors depression.
So, we know that genetics play a role in increasing the probability of experiencing depression.
We also know that it's a specific gene that increases this probability is responding to stress.
And finally, we know that stress is a response to our thinking and our environment.
This gives us the trifecta in terms of the origin of depression; genetics, life experience, and neurochemistry.
Not as straightforward as we may want it to be, but it definitely paints an understandable picture that will really help us address and treat depression.
If we want to successfully treat depression, we must address each contributing component, starting with stress.
There are a ton of stress management tools out there for reducing stress and entering the body and mind into a state of relaxation.
Mindfulness techniques and meditation are particularly good practices for exactly this.
Some medications can also help rebalance the neurochemistry but not all of them are effective.
There are natural supplements that are proven to have similar effects as medications without the side effects (though they may not be as strong and should be discussed with your primary care provider nonetheless).
These supplements include EPAs from fish oil, magnesium, vitamin D, and probiotics.
These will all improve your internal state, but what about the environment?
You can't take a pill or supplement to suddenly change your work, home, or physical environment.
This can only be addressed by looking at what things you can change about your environment.
Even small changes, cleaning up your bedroom, apartment, etc. can have a significant difference.
Meditating regularly and using mindfulness skills can also improve the way you see your environment.
Otherwise, looking to make a career change, move to a new place, or cut ties with certain influences may be a necessary step toward healing.
Major life changes can be extremely hard to do which is why talking with a mental health professional can be extremely beneficial.
It can be difficult to identify where to begin making changes, so having someone who supports you can make all the difference in the world.
Addressing the origin of depression is multi-faceted so having as much help as possible is always the best way to start making changes.
The origin of depression is multi-faceted which makes it a more challenging adversary to face.
It's still unclear where the true origin of depression starts, but addressing environmental factors, understanding genetic factors, and working with neurochemical factors gives you a great place to start treating depression.
Talking to a mental health care professional in conjunction with your primary care doctor will make it a lot easier to start reducing stress, and guide you toward more total care and support to get your life back on track.
Depression does not have to rule your life.
In the meantime, look into relaxation techniques, and mindfulness tools, and make some additions to your diet to make sure you are getting the nutrients your brain and body need to heal.
When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.
In order to perform this action you have to login