Depression is best defined as ‘A mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life’. It is believed to affect about 350 million people worldwide and about 1 in every 5 citizens in Britain. It is very often dismissed as simply one’s own inability to deal with rejection, failures or challenges of life. Ignoring the fact that it is actually a disease!! A disease which has a biological basis to it and can be cured.
The classical understanding of Depression has always associated it with serotonin, a neurotransmitter thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness. The lack or insufficient production of serotonin was linked with depression. Over time the focus of this research has been shifted a bit after observing and comparing the brain of a depressed person with that of the nondepressed using imaging techniques. The findings established Hippocampus as the next center of attention. Hippocampus is a part of the brain which stores short term memory and emotions. In depressed patients, Hippocampus is significantly shrunken while drugs that promote neurogenesis have been shown to increase its size and thereby reducing depression. Following hippocampus, Eventually, a huge list of other variables has come into picture which can directly or indirectly cause depression. These variables include amygdala, trauma, stress, cytokines, monoamines, cardiac rhythm amongst others.
A study from the University of Edinburgh involving over 3,500 British participants used diffusion tensor imaging technique to image brains of people. This technique is a variation of the standard MRI and creates images of internal organs and allows to visualize location, orientation, and anisotropy of the brain’s white matter tracts through magnetic fields. The results of the study suggested that there is a decline in the white matter (the paler tissue of the brain and spinal cord, consisting mainly of nerve fibers with their myelin sheaths) in the brains of people suffering from depression.
Over 50 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. A study claimed that “Depression causes more years lost to ill health than lung cancer in the UK”. One should also not forget that animals show depression (signs of depression or depression symptoms) as well. Primates and rodents have well been used to study this phenomenon in neuroscience and observational studies. Depression is real, serious and yes can be lethal. In order to develop robust ways of depression treatment and/or prevention, a finer and more precise understanding of it is necessary. One requires asserting this fact over and over again so that enough funds pour in for appropriate research.