Depression is one of the most frequent reasons that people find a therapist or counselor. Feeling down, deflated, hopeless, worthless, and unmotivated are all part of what makes up the experience of depression. It varies from individual to individual, and both the causes and effects of depression are complex and wide-ranging. In the past few weeks, several new studies on depression have been published. Though each of these studies involved animals, they may provide helpful insight into the human experience of depression.
Depression and stress was the focus of at least two such studies. One looked at zebra fish, a type of fish that is normally quite social, and put them in a stressful situation by isolating them from others. Most zebra fish continued swimming like normal, but those with a genetic mutation in their stress receptors displayed a depressed-like response: they hid in the corner and stopped swimming. What helped? Prozac. Of course, humans can also utilize therapy and counseling as alternatives or additions to medication. But the study does suggest that people more prone to stress are more likely to become overwhelmed, and thus depressed, when they encounter stressful situations. In this case, the goal of therapy may not be to address depressed emotions, but to address stress-coping mechanisms.
Sleep and depression are also closely linked in these recent animal studies. Human studies have already found a link between abnormal circadian rhythm and depression, but it’s unclear how they’re causally connected. But a new sleep experiment using hamsters shows that sleeping with even a dim light on raises depressive symptoms. It seems like such a small thing: all the researchers did was expose a group of hamsters to low level light at night. After eight weeks, they showed not only physical change (specifically in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with depression), but also behavioral change. The hamsters drank less sugar water, a drink they usually like, “presumably because they don’t get as much pleasure from activities they usually enjoy.” Just like humans. Does this research ‘solve’ the puzzle of depression? No. But with each piece of knowledge that falls into place, therapists and sufferers of depression have one more tool in their belt to find a treatment plan that works for the individual.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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