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You?re Much, Much More Than Your Biochemistry - A Social Perspective on Depression
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Michael D Yapko, PhD posted:
Hi and welcome! I'm Dr. Michael Yapko. I'm so pleased to be serving for this month as a "guest expert" for the WebMD Depression Community. I'm excited about this venue for sharing information and perspectives about depression and the work I've been involved in for more than three decades. I'm a clinical psychologist and author of a dozen books, and I regularly conduct clinical trainings for mental health professionals all around the world, particularly in the areas of short term psychotherapies and the active treatment of depression. I hope to bring practical, helpful information and viewpoints to this community, perhaps one that may at times seem a bit challenging to some with a different viewpoint, but viewpoints that are well supported in the research nonetheless. I take the topic of depression extremely seriously, and am earnest about being well informed in what I write and teach. If you care to, you can learn more about my work by visiting my website: http://www.yapko.com ..
Depression gets a huge amount of attention but, in my opinion, it has been too heavily weighted in the biological direction. Advances in the study of the brain are compelling, to be sure, but what's especially interesting, to me at least, is that the more we learn about the brain and mind, the more we learn how important our relationships are in shaping our experience - including our vulnerability to depression.
We are routinely bombarded with ads for drugs that inform us depression is a "medical illness" caused by a neurochemical imbalance in the brain, as if this were an established and universally accepted fact. It isn't. I realize this is the WebMD website where a medical viewpoint tends to dominate. Recently, however, unintended negative consequences of seeing depression as a medical illness requiring medication have started to come to light, encouraging us in the mental health profession to reconsider conventional wisdom. I will present a broader view of depression in my entries here as well as in my replies to some of the questions and concerns that arise in our discussions. I will often draw attention to the growing evidence that depression is much more a social than medical problem. The spread of depression across age and demographic groups in this country, indeed around the world, is a direct consequence of complex social forces that deserve our recognition and careful consideration. In a social sense, depression is contagious.
When the quality of our relationships is so powerful in influencing how we look at ourselves, others, life, can drugs really be the sole or even primary solution? We can't medicate everyone, realistically, and even if we could, the reality is that medication has too many limitations associated with it that unintentionally actually further exacerbate the problem. Suffice it to say for this first entry that depression is too serious and complex a problem to be dealt with only one-dimensionally. It's true- you are much, much more than your biology alone. How you relate to others is a great predictor of how you feel. In future entries, I'll focus on some of the specific evidence for the points I'm making in this general introduction to what my work in the area of depression has been about.
This WebMD Depression community represents, to me, a part of the solution- getting involved with others in helpful and supportive ways, sharing experiences and opinions, being willing to inspire and be inspired. I look forward to this month of participating in this community, and hope my contributions will be meaningful.
To get the conversation started, I'd be interested in hearing people's reactions to some of my comments. What does it mean to you to hear me say you're much more than your neurochemistry? Do you have an opinion as to how much of depression arises through social causes? What social changes do you think may have contributed to the escalating levels of depression?

Take the Poll

Which of the five factors below do you think most contributes to the onset of depression?
  • Higher divorce rates and the breakdown of the family
  • Poor diet and a lack of exercise
  • Genetic and/or biochemical anomalies
  • Higher levels of loneliness and social isolation
  • Patterns of distorted thinking
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JustAnotherGirl83 responded:
Hi, and welcome! Hope you settle in easily enough

Oh, I'm excited about this question and if I didn't have company I'd have much more to say... maybe later (I apologize in advance, I'm a bit opinionated ). I did want to say that I think your question is a bit limited in its answer choice (so I didn't answer it). I think several of those things (really, probably all of them) are very important when looking at the onset of depression and honestly to say one contributes more than the others might be too narrow of a view/approach... but that's just me
 
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miserable_sob replied to JustAnotherGirl83's response:
I exercise everyday, so I don't believe lack of exercise is a real cause unless it leads to you being fat and nothing to look at. I'd be depressed if my body became as worthless at that.
 
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kathycornflakes responded:
It's too hard for say absolutley what triggers depression for everyone. But I have read that depression (as well as some other mental illnesses) run in families. My father is most definatley depressed (never went to Dr for it). His brother is bi-polar, and I have other family members who have depression. As long as I can remember I was called a "serious" "introverted" and "meloncholy" child. My parents were called into the principles office when I was in 2nd grade because I drew a picture of "my future=" I drew a rain cloud, a crying face, a tree with no leaves, and rain. I was never abused, I had a pretty normal childhood. But for some reason, I was never a happy-go-lucky kind of person.

For me, I think my depression has made my social isolation worse. I had friends up until I started college. (I still do not have friends at 31). I also think my thoughts have become more distored as my depression has worsened. So, in my case, I think the most significant contributor to my depression is genetic/biochemical.


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