Fact vs. fiction

We have all felt own at some points in our life but are we all depressed? Do we need treatment or can we just snap out of it?  What causes depression? And what are the long term affects?

Currently, there is some debate over whether depression is an illness or a mindset.  And we have some powerful almost inspirational videos saying that depression can be cured with a change in attitude.

This is a nice motivational but what isn’t true is that depression comes and goes. One of the biggest misconceptions when speaking about depression is the difference between the medical definition and how it is used in everyday langue.  It isn’t unusually to say that something “makes you depressed”; for example you have been dieting all week, and you are going to treat yourself with a snack from the vending machine and once you arrive only to find out that the last one is stuck inside of the …. that isn’t depressing isn’t it? Actually no it isn’t.  Minor setbacks like this are no doubt a disappointment but a true depression has not just emotional but also causes biological differences in the brain.  In fact, one of the most damaging things you can do is tell somebody to “cheer up” or “get over it” Because in some cases it isn’t possible.

Can depression a good thing?

Depression is not necessarily a good thing, but it is a human thing, normal at appropriate times.  If something tragic happens like loss of a loved one or something else tragic it is normal for someone to feel depressed, however feeling depressed is not being depressed.

The video above explains the science of a “heartbreak.”  These kinds of depression are normal.

The difference between Major depressive disorders and feeling blue.

There are many types of depression, but the DSM-V (or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the handbook used as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders) currently recognizes Depressive Episodes and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).  Thou they are linked there are some stark differences between the two.  However, depressive episodes are typically isolated and temporary incidents.   The criteria for a MDD can include a depressive episode of multiple episodes but it has many more symptoms listed below.


















More than a mindset

Well if someone is just sad to get a pint of Ben and Jerrys a bottle of wine and watch a Ryan Gosling movie on Netflix have a good cry, sleep and get over it. Right?  Not according to Stanford professors.


Robert Sapolsky.  Below is a clip from one of Sapolsky lectures


(ever wanted a Stamford education? Now is your chance Many of Sapolksy’s full lectures can be seen free on YouTube)

According to Robert Sapolsky’s study called Depression, antidepressants, and the shrinking hippocampus Sapolsky is a neuroendocrinologist, professor of biology, neuroscience, and neurosurgery at Stanford University, and his paper study speaks to the changes in the biology and the structure of the brain.  His studies on rats proved that extreme emotions could alter the structure of the brain.  Below is a video of a man overcoming fridged cold temperatures he attributes this seemly superhuman power to a breathing technique.  However at around three mins into the video we find that he had an extremely emotional experience, perhaps changing has brain functions leading to an abnormal response.



Can the cold heal all wounds? Probably not, in the article Fixable or Fate? Perceptions of the Biology of Depression by\Lebowitz discusses the way the brain changes after experiencing intense emotion.  It is important to think of the brain as liquid ever changing and reacting to whatever happens.  Lebowitz highlighted how malleable the brain is and how even if the brain is damaged in some cases it can repair itself.   However, people who have had more depressive symptoms also had different brains.  Their brains were less malleable and less likely to change even with therapeutic intervention.  Now not only will your brain change but it may take longer to change back if it changes at all.  Some of the symptoms might “get better, ” but it is as if a major depressive episode literally scares the brain.


For a long time, the cause of depression was thought to be in the production of serotonin. In a study titled Interaction of brain 5-HT synthesis deficiency, chronic stress, and sex differentially impacts emotional behavior in Tph2 knockout mice, Essentially this article confirms that serotonin is a powerful influence on depression when it comes to the brains of mice.  In this case variations in the production of serotonin (one of the 3-part chemical cocktail) caused adverse effects. They found that variation in genes moderating 5-HT (serotonin) system function, with other common variants of the genetics, as well as outside factors, can contribute “to negative emotionality and aggression-related behavior emerging from compromised brain development and highly efficient neuroadaptive processes across the life cycle.”

So if it is a chemical imbalance why not correct the imbalance such as giving insulin to somebody with diabetes? It isn’t that simple as explained by Dr. Terry Lynch is an Irish medical doctor and psychotherapist. The over the use of antidepressants which are typically flooding the system with serotonin (or other brain chemicals) have shown to begin to atrophy the areas of the brain that produce it naturally. Once you have a surplus, your body no longer needs to create these chemicals thus shut down production.



Good advice for some people could be deadly for others. People suffering from MDD appear lethargic and almost comatose, but that is on the outside.  Inside the body is under attack by constant stress.  Draining the person’s energy.  Sapolsky goes on to say that when someone is that low, they are to depress to attempt suicide however it is when they begin to recover and start to gain more energy that they are most likely to attempt suicide.  Which is alarming and exemplifies how damaging the first video titled  YOU ARE NOT DEPRESSED, STOP IT! can be.

People who have depression disorders are not looking for sympathy they have an illness here are some things to say and some things not to say.


What to say:

You’re not alone in this.

You are important to me.

Do you want a hug?

When all this is over, I’ll still be here and so will you.

I can’t understand what you are feeling, but I can offer my compassion.

I’m not going to leave you or abandon you.


What NOT to say:

There’s always someone worse off than you are.

No one ever said that life was fair

Stop feeling sorry for yourself.

It’s your fault.

Believe me; I know how you feel. I was depressed once for several days.

I think your depression is a way of punishing us.



Gutknecht, L., Popp, S., Waider, J., Sommerlandt, F. M., Göppner, C., Post, A., . . . Lesch, K. (2015). Interaction of brain 5-HT synthesis deficiency, chronic stress and sex differentially impact emotional behavior in Tph2 knockout mice. Psychopharmacology, 232(14), 2429-2441. doi:10.1007/s00213-015-3879-0

Sapolsky, R. M. (2001). Depression, antidepressants, and the shrinking hippocampus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98(22), 12320-12322. doi:10.1073/pnas.231475998

Lebowitz, Supplemental Material for Fixable or Fate? Perceptions of the Biology of Depression. (2013). Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. doi:10.1037/a0031730.supp