Brain Chemistry and Depression
Contribution of Chemicals in the Brain to Depression
As an illness, few disorders are as misunderstood as depression. Largely the result of changes in brain chemistry, depression has been largely blamed on irrelevant causes such as personal choice or a "bad attitude." A common refrain heard by people suffering from depression such as, "Why don't you just cheer yourself up?" does little to lessen depression's impact or even describe its effects, which have little to do with "sadness" per se.
Changing Attitudes toward Depression
After all, if one were able to simply cure depression by "cheering oneself up," hardly anyone would suffer from it at all. It would be much like telling someone with diabetes that they could simply will their body into producing insulin if they so desired: Of course, the thought would not just be absurd but dangerous if followed to its logical conclusion.
The Illness-Side of Depression
And yet depression is also a life-threatening illness. Rates of suicide among people suffering from depression and depression-related illnesses are high. Depression can also be co-morbid with other illnesses, leading to a complicated and seemingly impossible-to-treat bundle of problems. For the depressed person, it can all feel overwhelming and impossible to deal with even on good days.
When the Media Distorts Our Perceptions of Depression
The truth is that self-treatment for depression rarely works, and the stigma attached to the disease often prevents individuals from seeking the help they need from trained professionals. Images in the media of depressed individuals can also often mislead the public on the real issues surrounding the disorder. It is as though, because the mind cannot be seen, that mental illness does not strike many in the public as "real," in the same way that a cold or the flu might be "real." Of course, this fallacy has been repeatedly shown to be false, but the persistent belief that depression is caused by self-pity or an unwillingness to engage in a positive attitude continues to wreak havoc on the lives of people with the disease.
How and Why Antidepressants Work
Similarly, skepticism about the effects of antidepressant medication tend to do more harm than good in the overall treatment of depression in the healthcare field. For example, drugs that increase the effect of neurotransmitters like monoamines such as serotonin can do worlds of good for depressed patients. When the brain is not able to use such neurotransmitters effectively, a persistently negative mood can occur: One reason why the use of drugs such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) is so important in the treatment of depression. Such medications literally help the brain to properly function.
The Importance of Speaking with Professionals
By speaking with medical professionals about the benefits of antidepressants, people suffering from depression can find that their life takes on new meaning and significance as they become awake to their surroundings. Depression is much like a deep fog that permeates all aspects of life; the right antidepressant can in many ways disperse that fog.
Validating Others' Feelings
So what can others do to help erase the stigma of depression? If someone you love suffers from this illness, one of the best steps you can take is simply to listen and to validate their feelings. People with depression often want no more than to be understood and to know that the pain they're feeling is something that is real and worth the concern of others. It means the world to someone with depression to be listened to clearly for even ten minutes, and to have their emotions treated as very real and valid.
Understanding that people with depression do not "choose" to have the illness anymore than someone chooses to have diabetes is another major step in understanding the disease. Depression produces horrible feelings, and few people, if any, would willingly "choose" to experience such a state. Understanding that the person with depression wants to be rid of the illness is just one way of understanding what they are going through. That is when the real healing can begin.