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 shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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