Elisavet-Vasiliki Papadopoulou, Biochemistry 3rd Year
During discussions with peers regarding depression I often hear the following statement: ‘Depression is caused by low serotonin levels’.
We today know that the mechanisms involved in depression are complex; involving psychological and neurochemical factors. One such commonly quoted molecule is
serotonin – peaks and troughs in the concentration of this factor being strongly correlated with mood. The key concept in the earlier statement being correlation and not cause. If correlation were causation, ice cream sales would be driving and deaths from drowning and eating organic food would be giving babies autism.
As someone who personally suffered from depression, I perceive depression to be a building state of mind. Clinical depression, however, is no mere ‘state of mind’, but more an all encompassing physiological response that interferes with all aspects of a sufferers’ life.
Consequently medication is deemed necessary for the treatment of depression, although the medication is not administered to permanently fix the problem but instead serves as a temporary form of relief for the patient. Pharmacologically speaking, this does not provide a solution- or curing of a disease (as considered by some) – but allows for the artificial restoration of balance in the physical chemistry of the brain, making it possible for
the individual to heal their state of affairs (find compassion and maybe love), and when deemed stable, be given back control of the chemistry of their brain.
Brains are individual, personal and they are not alike. Psychiatry does not concern itself with ‘right and wrong’ discussions, but wants to ensure a patient is capable to respond, survive and effectively orient himself in his environment. To be given back control would
mean the person suffering would be absolutely responsible for their actions again. Therefore, a person suffering from clinical depression is required to take their medication alongside other kinds of alternative therapy. This suggests that depression is not a disease caused ONLY by (possibly) low serotonin levels, but a condition one needs to combat through the means of lifestyle changes.
New studies suggest that depression results from a disturbance in the ability of brain cells to communicate with each other [University of Maryland Medical Centre], personally, a better conception of the aforementioned statement is that a depressed person exhibits a measurable disturbance of cell communication. This could translate to the loss of sense of identity and motivation which suggests that their networking, the ability to piece things together and produce meaning is suffering; a true sign of depression.
Conclusively, depression is not something that is caused; it correlates with certain abnormalities that can be addressed medically (to stabilise a condition). The true root of depression is the individual trying to find meaning in a world that is lost, and only by realising that, can we stop the unnecessary administration of medication to people and work on preventing depression from developing at all.