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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For way too long, there’s been an idea that discipline has to make kids feel bad if it’s going to steer them away from bad choices. But my gosh we’ve been so wrong. 

The idea is a hangover from behaviourism, which built its ideas on studies done with animals. When they made animals scared of something, the animal stopped being drawn to that thing. It’s where the idea of punishment comes from - if we punish kids, they’ll feel scared or bad, and they’ll stop doing that thing. Sounds reasonable - except children aren’t animals. 

The big difference is that children have a frontal cortex (thinking brain) which animals and other mammals don’t have. 

All mammals have a feeling brain so they, like us, feel sad, scared, happy - but unlike us, they don’t feel shame. The reason animals stop doing things that make them feel bad is because on a primitive, instinctive level, that thing becomes associated with pain - so they stay away. There’s no deliberate decision making there. It’s raw instinct. 

With a thinking brain though, comes incredibly sophisticated capacities for complex emotions (shame), thinking about the past (learning, regret, guilt), the future (planning, anxiety), and developing theories about why things happen. When children are shamed, their theories can too easily build around ‘I get into trouble because I’m bad.’ 

Children don’t need to feel bad to do better. They do better when they know better, and when they feel calm and safe enough in their bodies to access their thinking brain. 

For this, they need our influence, but we won’t have that if they are in deep shame. Shame drives an internal collapse - a withdrawal from themselves, the world and us. For sure it might look like compliance, which is why the heady seduction with its powers - but we lose influence. We can’t teach them ways to do better when they are thinking the thing that has to change is who they are. They can change what they do - they can’t change who they are. 

Teaching (‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put this right?’) and modelling rather than punishing or shaming, is the best way to grow beautiful little humans into beautiful big ones.

#parenting
Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting

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