Dealing with Depression: 14 NEW Insights That Will Change the Way You Think About It

Dealing with Depression: 14 NEW Insights That Will Change the Way You Think About It

Depression has a reach that shows no favourites and no limits. It has no eye for age, gender, culture or anything else that might separate us into easily conquered groups. It is a human condition, and as humans, we all have the potential to be touched by it in some way. If we are not directly dealing with depression, then chances are we will be indirectly affected by watching someone we love struggle against it. 

There is so much research happening in the area of depression and as a result, the way we understand it is changing shape dramatically. The old ways of thinking about depression are being challenged (finally!). This is giving way to new hope for more effective treatments and a more accurate, less stigmatised understanding of what depression is, where it comes from and what it means.

Dealing with Depression: What you need to know.

Here is what you need to know about depression. They are new insights that will have a lofty influence over the way depression is understood, perceived and treated:

  1. Depression is an illness of the entire body, not just the mind.

    Depression is a systemic illness that affects the whole body, not just the mind. This may be why people with depression are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer and cardiovascular disease. Depression is linked to oxidative stress in the body. This is a process in which the body over-produces free radicals and is unable to get rid of them from the body. The free radicals cause damage to critical parts of cells, undermining their ability to function effectively and potentially causing those cells to die. The overproduction of free radicals can be triggered by stress, environmental pollutants, alcohol, tobacco, food and the body’s natural immune response (inflammation).   

  2. Chronic inflammation in the bloodstream can fuel depression.

    Among people with depression, concentrations of two markers of inflammation, (CRP and IL-6) are elevated by up to 50%. Stress is one of the main contributors to inflammation. A high-fat diet or high body mass are also culprits. Inflammation is usually a sign that the body is trying to fight some sort of pathogen. This is what healthy bodies are meant to do, but in some people, the systemic inflammation is persistent. It is widely accepted that this inflammation is behind all physical and mental illness. Research has also found that depression caused by chronic inflammation is resistant to traditional therapy methods, but that it can be relieved with activities such as yoga, meditation, and exercise.

  3. Inflammation increases glutamate in the brain, creating a vulnerability to depression. 

    People with depression who show signs of systemic inflammation have elevated levels of glutamate in certain areas of the brain. Glutamate is used by brain cells to communicate but when levels become too high, it can become toxic to brain cells and glia, the cells that support brain health. Researchers think this may be one of the ways inflammation harms the brain and increases the risk of depression. High levels of glutamate in these areas of the brain are associated with anhedonia, (the inability to experience pleasure) and slow motor function (also associated with depression). Inflammation in this study was determined by a blood test for C-reactive protein (CRP). 

  4. Exercise helps to protect the brain against depression.

    Exercise restores the levels of two important neurotransmitters, glutamate and GABA, to healthy levels. Exercise seems to go a long way towards repairing the damage that is done by inflammation. The research was conducted using exercise sessions of between 8 and 20 minutes. The effects of the exercise in the week following the session.

  5. Early life stress is a major risk factor for later depression.

    Adults who were abused or neglected as children are almost twice as likely to experience depression. The increased risk is associated with greater sensitivity of brain circuits involved in processing threat and fuelling the stress response. Research suggests that exposure to neglect or abuse reduces activity the part of the brain (the ventral striatum) that processes rewarding experiences. This is likely to affect the capacity to experience enthusiasm, pleasure or other positive emotions.

  6. A depressed brain shows a different response to stress.

    In a study involving mice, scientists found vast differences in the brain activity of helpless mice and resilient mice. (Mice are not used because someone thinks they’re cute, but because the mouse model of depression is biologically similar to human depression.) The brains of helpless mice were remarkably similar in many ways. They showed an overall reduction in brain activity, particularly in areas that would affect their ability to deal with stress. These areas of reduced activity included the parts of the brain that are critical for organising thoughts and action, processing emotion, motivation, defensive behaviour, coping with stress, and learning and memory.

  7. Genes are NOT destiny. The environment can alter a genetic predisposition to depression.

    Still with tiny rodents – a study with rats has shown that the environment can alter a genetic vulnerability to depression. When rats that were genetically bred to be depressed received a type of ‘rat psychotherapy’, they showed significantly less depressive behaviour. Their blood biomarkers for depression also changed to non-depressed levels. The ‘psychotherapy’ involved putting the rats in an enriched environment that had space, toys to chew on, places to hide and climb, and opportunities to socialise with other mice.

    ‘If someone has a strong history of depression in her family and is afraid she or her future children will develop depression, our study is reassuring. It suggests that even with a high predisposition for depression, psychotherapy or behavioral activation can alleviate it’. Eva Redei, lead study investigator, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. 

  8. Nature? Nurture? Well actually, it’s both.

    The greatest influence on the development of depression is neither genes nor environment, but the interaction between the two. Several genes have been associated with depression, particularly those that affect serotonin, the neurochemical that acts as to regulate mood. A genetic variation (allele) found in the serotonin transporter seems to influence the way a person responds to stress. Those with the ‘S’ (short) allele were more likely to develop depression than those with the ‘L’ (long) allele when they were exposed to the same type and amount of stressors. This research suggests that those with the ‘L’ allele can adapt more effectively to their environment. Those with the ‘S’ allele appear to have a brain that is less able to adapt to adversity. 

  9. Depression increases risk for cardiovascular disease but …

    Depression is a known risk factor for stroke, heart attack, and death, but treating depression significantly reduces the risk to non-depressed levels. It is unclear which comes first – the depression or the heart disease. Heart disease may increase the risk of depression, or depression may inflame the risk factors associated heart problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or lack of exercise.

  10. Meditation and exercise. The power couple.

     When done together, meditation and aerobic exercise reduce depressive symptoms by 40%. The combination  seems to help people with depression to be less overwhelmed or influenced by negative thoughts. The study involved 30 minutes of focused attention meditation, followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. Meditation and exercise are a powerful combo and they seem to work on a number of levels:

    •  they promote the growth and preservation of brain cells, which is critical for mental health. The slowing down of brain cell growth, or the reduction of brain cells can lead to all sorts of mental health problems, including depression;

    •  they nurture the development of new cognitive skills that get rid of the negative filter;

    •  they reduce the influence of past memories in fuelling depression. 

  11. Affectionate mothering can protect a newborn from the potential effects of maternal depression.

    Mothers with depressive symptoms who were more responsive to her baby’s signals, and who engaged in more gentle, affectionate touching during face to face play, had babies who showed less physiological evidence of stress. The research suggests that by interacting sensitively with their babies, mothers who have symptoms of depression may be ‘turning on’ certain genes that help infants manage stress in healthy ways.

  12. A depressed brain shows a disconnection between brain regions that process emotion.

    Brain scans of young adults showed that in those who had experienced more than one episode of depression, the amygdala (involved in detecting emotion) is disconnected from the rest of the brain’s emotional network. Researchers suggest this may interfere with how accurately emotions are processed. This disconnection is likely to be the reason that people with depression are more likely to experience neutral information as negative.

  13. Burnout and depression overlap.

    In research looking at the overlap between burnout and depression, 1,386 people were categorised as either having burnout or not. 85% of people who were identified as having burnout also met the criteria for depression. In contrast, only 1% of people who did not have burnout met the criteria for depression. People with burnout were about three times as likely to have a history of depression, and almost four times as likely to be currently taking antidepressants. 

  14. Social media use increases likelihood of depression.

    The more time young adults spend on social media, the greater their risk of depression. The association between social media use and depression is linear, meaning the risk of depression increases with time spent on social media. The reasons for this are unclear, but the researchers have a few theories:

•  people who are already depressed may be turning to social media to find comfort;

•  the images on social media are highly idealised and may lead to feelings of inadequacy, envy, and cause distorted comparisons. 

•  social media can be a big dirty time hog (come on, you know it’s true), causing people to feel as though they have wasted valuable time;

•  social media use could be feeding an internet addiction, a psychiatric condition that can fuel depressive symptoms

•  the impact of cyber-bullies and other not-so-nice interactions.

And finally …

Depression is more than thoughts and feelings. It’s more than a sad mind or a body that doesn’t feel the way it used to. After settling for decades on the idea that depression is because of broken thinking or a chemical deficiency in the brain, research is now moving forward and showing us that depression is an illness of the body, most probably initiated by genetics and environment. Because of this, we are in a better position than ever to understand depression. With this expanded understanding comes the greater promise of new treatments and management strategies for a happier, richer life, free from the constraints of depression.

[irp posts=”1528″ name=”When Someone You Love Has Depression”]

15 Comments

James

I am 34 years old and am currently battling depression. I do not have funding for a Dr. what are ways to cope with this?

Reply
Karen Young

If you aren’t able to see a doctor there are other things you can do to help strengthen yourself against depression. There is so much research that has shown mindfulness, exercise and gut health are important ways to do this. You will find more information and articles explaining how these work on this link https://www.heysigmund.com/category/being-human/depression/. One of the awful things about depression is that the negative thinking and hopelessness that comes with it can have you believing that nothing makes a difference, but there is very convincing research – and a lot of it – showing that these can really make a difference.

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

Timothy there is no way to die without hurting your loved ones. Your pain doesn’t end, it just gets transferred to them. The difference is that the pain will stay with them forever. The confusion, the questions, the vast gap in their lives from not having you there – it will never end. I understand you are in pain now, but there is a way through this for you. It will take the fight of your life, but you can do this. Have you spoken with a doctor? There some people find relief from medication, but be patient if you do this because it can take up to 8 weeks. Also, different medications might have different effects for different people, so it may be a case of experimenting before they find the right one for you. As well as this, a counsellor will be able to support you through so that you don’t feel as though you are doing this alone. Finally, here is an article for you to read https://www.heysigmund.com/dealing-with-depression-meditation-exercise/. Meditation and exercise have been found to reduce the symptoms of depression by up to 40%. They work by changing the structure and function of the brain.

I know you are hurting, and I know at the moment it feels as though there is no way through – that’s what depression does. It fills you with hopelessness, but this is the depression talking. The truth is that you can beat this. Please don’t give up and please don’t lose hope. You are so important to the people who love you. Keep moving forward, and one day you will be grateful you didn’t end your life. Love and strength to you.

Reply
simon

I would like to see more about Fibromyalgia & its links to depression! As a sufferer of both, its hard to remember which came 1st?
High levels of Strong medication, (Morphine and years of Co-Codamol), for the pain seems to desensitize the brain making it more susceptible to Depression.
It also seems harder to deal / resolve the depression – Tried meditation – Gets disrupted by pain!
Try to keep active, but exercise is right out of the window – due to the pain levels!

Reply
Jane

I would like to see something discussing depression/anxiety in the elderly specifically.

Reply
louise

I really appreciate all the research that you gather together about depression but as a lay person, I just wonder what is the definition of depression? I’m fairly sure that I don’t suffer from clinical depression, but there are periods in my life when I feel seriously down/ depressed. So does this research apply only to clinical depression?
I’m a big fan of yours and look forward to your weekly postings – always something there that is relevant to my life even if I no longer have children living at home. Thank you.

Reply
Peter

This article was very interesting and a lot of it related to me. I just can’t see how it ‘deals’ with depression.

Maybe it’s just me. I’m running out.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Peter the hope is that it will lead into new treatment areas. Also, there are really significant findings around the importance of meditation, mindfulness and exercise in managing depression. Your environment is also critical. If you are in a stressful job or work environment, or if you are around people or increase your stress, either by the extreme demands they put on you or the way they treat you, that could potentially inflame symptoms. High stress can cause inflammation which can lead to depression. Keep fighting for you. Here is an article that also talks about some ways to manage depression that have been proven to be helpful for many https://www.heysigmund.com/the-non-medication-ways-to-deal-with-depression-that-are-as-effective-as-medication/

Reply
Nedra

Thanks! As one who suffered several hospitalizations, I feel these are true statements! Nothing helped me.no meds,counseling , et. I went thru hypnotism, and misery. I think time faith and family and friend s saved me. This all makes sense!!!!

Reply
Hey Sigmund

I’m so pleased this makes sense Nedra. The new research is really promising – it’s good to know the area is getting so much attention.

Reply
Audrey B

It’s good to know about the newest information on depression. It gives more hope. Thank you!

Reply
Dr Mixs

Hi there…

this is totally spot on… it’s wonderful to have information like this going out. The body and mind are linked and it is unethical to address the one without the other.

Thank you for the read.

Reply

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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