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The Body Part

Depressed, depressing, and depression are all words I hear and use frequently. These terms are so ingrained in our culture, they are used for anything from a disappointing friend to an expired ice cream. It is so common, even people who have no awareness of its clinical meaning, or who consider themselves ‘happy’, brush with it now and then.

Perhaps it is due to the fact that after decades of research, new treatment methods, and numerous approaches attempting to dissolve its grip on people around the world, depression remains an incurable phenomenon. And according to the American Psychological Association (APA), it is “the most common mental disorder.”

The theories about depression can be roughly divided into two groups – those who contend depression is a physiological/biological disease caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and can be treated with medication, and those who believe it is a psychological/spiritual problem that requires other forms of treatment. There is a split between the physiological (body) and the psychological (mind) approaches that may be at the root of the inability to find an effective long-term treatment.

But few have made the connection between the physical and the psychological, both in their understanding of the nature of depression, and in the ways to help those who are struggling with it. Looking beyond the symptoms and deeper into the research behind the various theories about depression, its causes, and treatments, could help in finding what’s been missing.

Different Approaches

During a debate about depression, Donald Klein, M.D. Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University argued that “clinical depression, is not unhappiness, it is an illness that is open to medication and can be medicated well.” How well is still an open question. Most if not all the medicine and other medical treatments (i.e. Electroconvulsive Therapy) aim to mitigate or eliminate the symptoms of depression such as lack of energy, a loss of interest in life’s activities, and thoughts of death or suicide.

While empirical data suggest pharmaceuticals help some patients, the danger of psychiatric drugs is in its effect on the person’s inability to feel the body. Medicated people are often seen to have a ‘numb’ quality to their behavior and demeanor. Medication may reduce their symptoms and aid them in performing certain societal tasks, but it brings an onslaught of side-effects, and perpetuates the condition without changing its root-cause. This is one of the reasons many depressed patients are susceptible to repeating episodes.

Klein’s colleague, Fred Goodwin, Professor of Psychiatry at George Washington University said during that same debate that depression “involves a whole bunch of physiological dysregulations [which show] that there are differences in depressed patients and people who are not depressed.” This may be true, as brain imaging shows, but to say that it is the cause of depression is still unfounded.