The Depressed Brain
By Marion E Brooks-Bartlett, on 16 June 2012
Have you ever wondered what the more intricate reason is for why you get depressed? Why, when you take a walk in the park and step on some dog excrement, you feel like it would have to be you out of the many people walking in the park for this unfortunate thing to happen to and then suddenly the world is against you?
It is to do with the part of your brain called the amygdala, which is triggered when you’re depressed. Apparently, it is shown to be overactive during negative times in your life, so you overreact to negative situations.
Antidepressant tablets try to slow down this activity and try to help stimulate neurogenesis (production of new neurons) via increasing serotonin levels in your brain.
Why is this important? Because these new neurones allow new interpretations and connect to other cells, and potentially change the way we think. Depression and stress suppress neurogenesis, so there is a lack of these new neurones; hence we stay with old negative interpretations of things.
This talk was interesting since, by surprise, Ruby Wax came on as one of the panel members as an example of the “one in four” people that have suffered from severe depression (It is not quite clear if this probability is the same in every country).
She spoke about how isolated she felt and really put depression in perspective. She is due to do a Master’s in Oxford about ‘Mindfulness’ – which from what I gathered is how to stop yourself from slipping back into depression.
It started getting a bit awkward during the Q&A session when people were talking about their personal experiences: it was important to discuss these things but I think it drifted from the science a bit.
What it did shed light on was that although the scientists on the panel seemed to be almost singing the praises of these drugs, there are some severe and uncomfortable side effects to them.
These included a man whose man’s wife suffered from a psychotic episode the first time she took one drug and became much more suicidal than before; while others mentioned how another drug stopped them from having sex with their partner and some have found they are ‘over happy’ and on a ‘high’.
Some even found that they can’t come off certain drugs because they just fall back into depression. This was further supported by the next talk I went to about mental health, where they said a third of people on antidepressants respond adversely to them.
Afterwards, I went to have a look at the ‘Talking point’, which is where people go for further discussions with the presenters about their talks (pictured).
It was uplifting to see everyone in a circle trying to support and encourage one another about depression, as well as Ruby helping to be very open about the condition so that people felt comfortable to talk.
Maybe the science wasn’t all there and it was just emotions being discussed, but science is here to help people and improve life, so if this session was a cure for some people then well done to the science festival!