What is it that we know about depression? We know what it looks like, and some of us know what it feels like. We know that it can be dangerous if left untreated, but we also know that it can be treated successfully. For a long time, we thought we knew what causes it, too. But… what if we were wrong all along?
One of the most common explanations for depression was that it’s a chemical imbalance – caused by low levels of neurotransmitters that are popularly known as “happy chemicals.” But it seems like that might not be the case. A recent study published in Molecular Psychiatry suggests there is no clear evidence that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance!
There are several other theories that may describe causes of depression. Some of them focus on life events, some focus on changes inside the body. But one thing is for sure: if you understand what caused you to fall into the depths of depression, you have a much higher chance of fighting it.
Here are 4 alternative explanations for depression. Could some of them describe you?
1. The change
Depression can sometimes be caused by specific events or stressors that happen in our lives, which are often called major life events.
Let’s take starting a new school or a University as an example. Starting education is a life period that brings a lot of new challenges to young people. According to a research article published in BMC Public Health, it’s important to note how students perceive those challenges. Are they able to manage the demands of everyday life? Can they meet their personal goals? Or resist peer pressure, as well as academic or financial pressure?
Some other examples of major life events can be moving away, starting a new job, starting a family or losing a loved one. Going through something like this without a support system could make you stuck and unable to cope with the changes. As a result, you might get overwhelmed and fall into depression.
Was there a time in your life when something changed, and made you feel sad or depressed?
2. All by yourself
The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that man is a “social animal”. As such, he is unable to live isolated from others. This thought of his is relevant today, too. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, says that “being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need—crucial to both well-being and survival.”
That might be why social isolation can lead us straight into depression. A 2020 study published in medical journal The Lancet shows that even small periods of isolation can have long-term effects of psychiatric symptoms, including depression.
Unfortunately, in 2019, we felt the effects of social isolation on our own skin. A research study published in Brain Science found that social isolation and social dissatisfaction were associated with greater depressive symptoms during the pandemic lockdown.
How do you handle being isolated from others? Do you perceive it as loneliness or solitude?
3. An important mineral
Researchers believe that magnesium plays a critical role in brain function, mood, and psychiatric disorders. In their recent 2020 paper, scientists explain how magnesium is essential for correct functioning of the central nervous system. A research study published in Journal of Affective Disorder even found reduced levels of magnesium in the brains of suicide victims.
Low magnesium levels are also found in anxious individuals. Dr. Tracey Marks, a psychiatrist, calls this relationship “a loop that feeds on itself.” Stress lowers your magnesium levels, and low magnesium levels further increase your stress, making you feel anxious and depressed.
Do you think you might be magnesium deficient? If so, please talk to your doctor. They will be able to run blood tests and suggest further steps in your treatment.
4. Your stomach
Have you ever experienced running to the bathroom a night before an important exam? Or saying you’re “sick to your stomach” when anxious? Or feeling “butterflies in your stomach” when you’re falling in love? These examples illustrate how your stomach is connected to your brain and your emotions – something scientists call the gut-brain axis.
Austin Perlmutter, a doctor of internal medicine says that “the food that you eat has a direct effect on your brain function.” A bad diet can cause an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, which is associated with inflammation. A study published in the journal Current Neuropharmacology shows that inflammation can negatively affect mood and cause mental health problems.
A recent 2022 study even found that using “good bacteria” in probiotics can act as a great addition to traditional treatment of depression!
Find your solution
It’s important to note that a person rarely becomes depressed because of one single reason. Most of the time the problem appears as a combination of several different factors. And there are many more possible causes that we didn’t cover in this article. Those could be a history of childhood trauma and abuse, family history of depression, negative cognitive style, learned helplessness… and many more!
Whatever the cause may be, we strongly encourage you to seek treatment if you’re feeling unhappy. A mental health professional would help you further analyze your problem. This is important, because it will allow them to create the best possible treatment plan that will work for you specifically. Do you need help dealing with a stressful event? Do you need help finding friends? Or maybe you require some blood tests? Whatever it is, you deserve to know, and you deserve to get that help!
Do you think there’s something else that might be making you depressed? Share it with us and our community! We’ll be happy to listen.
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Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. The Lancet, 395(10227), 912–920. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(20)30460-8
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Sokratous, S., Merkouris, A., Middleton, N., & Karanikola, M. (2013). The association between stressful life events and depressive symptoms among Cypriot university students: a cross-sectional descriptive correlational study. BMC Public Health, 13(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-13-1121
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