Depression can clearly be seen as a sensible response to the uncertainties of the food supply in a primitive world. It’s useful to think of Depression as a kind of hibernation. When food became very scarce, either perhaps through bad weather conditions or an inability to hunt because of illness or injury, then shutting down the body and mind conserves energy and reduces the need for food. This has obvious advantages for surviving the winter. In the modern world we have adapted this response to stress from other sources but there is perhaps a difference. Some people have lost the ability to re-adapt as the situation improves, and this has everything to do with our assessment of the situation – Has it improved?
Distorted Thinking causes Depression
The type of explanation we give ourselves about our world, both internally and externally is of the huge importance. It is not the events of our lives, which fundamentally give rise to depression. It is the thought processes, which surround those events that determine whether we are depressed. What we tell ourselves is therefore of the upmost importance, and distortions in our thinking are what determine whether or not we get locked into depression. Referred to as our ‘Attributional Style’ (Yapko), these determines whether one person may get locked into depression, while others with equal or more hardship do not. When the emotional rollercoaster is on overtime the higher cortex is diverted away from its highly evolved ability to tolerate ambiguity. This is the inability to tolerate the uncertainties of life and is very much a cause of depression. From a ‘Human Givens’ perspective the three most important variables determining our attributional style are:
- How personally we take events
- How pervasive we view events to be
- How permanent we think an event is
So, if we take things personally, interpret events as all pervasive and think that set-backs last forever, our mood will inevitably become gloomy and depressed.
Physiological causes of Depression
We can understand depression as a physical alteration of the brain’s emotional circuitry. The feeling of depression, of low or depressed mood, with or without a diagnosis of depression, has everything to do with our brain chemistry and connectivity. People who suffer from depression show a significant decrease is in three so-called monoamine neurotransmitters: norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin. These are the brain chemicals responsible for our positive emotions and feelings of wellbeing. Research by psychiatrist Joseph Schildkraut in 1965 found that a breakdown product of norepinephrine, called methoxyhydroxyphenylglycol (MHPG), was reduced in depressed patients. This gave us something to measure and Schuldkraut’s work then led to the ‘monoamine hypothesis’. The hypothesis holds that depression is caused by a deficit of these three neurotransmitters.
When we produce a constant flow of serotonin we are happy, calm, coping, brave little souls
Norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin act as messengers that transmit information across the synapses. However, if too few connections are in place, their effectiveness is limited. In order for us to be able to adapt and survive, the brain must have the ability to constantly make new connections (neuroplasticity) and transmit information across these.
Just like the caveman, when the emotional landscape turns wintry, our neurobiology tells us to stay inside.
In depression, it seems that in certain areas, the brain loses its ability to adapt and thus to deal with ambiguous circumstances. The shutdown in depression is a shutdown in learning at the cellular level. The brain effectively gets locked into negative cycle and loses the flexibility to get out of the loop. Redefining depression as a connectivity issue also goes a long way to explain the wide range of symptoms people experience. Today, research has shifted from neurotransmitter hypothesis to the connectivity theory. It’s focus is on brain connectivity and factors such as BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). In addition to working at the synapse, as serotonin does, BDNF is directly involved in encouraging neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. It turns on genes to produce more neurotransmitters and neurotrophins, whilst also inhibiting self-destructive cellular activity.
Changes Welcome Practitioners understand the causes of depression and have the tools to offer you the help with depression that you need.
Read more about Hypnotherapy to Help with Depression.