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A Multidimensional Approach to Depression

Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.

It's no secret that depression is one of the most intractable mental health challenges faced by society. By intractable, I mean that depression is a stubborn disease. Did you know that according to Dr. Richard Friedman, only 33% of those with a major depressive disorder will experience full remission of their symptoms after the first round of treatment?

depressed male on benchThat's a sobering thought. And even though there are more than 25 different antidepressant medications to choose from, we still don't have a cure for depression. A big reason for that is because we still don't know what causes it.

We used to think that mental disorders were not physical disorders (this was long ago, mind you, but the stigma still remains). But some scientific camps believe just the opposite - that depression is purely a biochemical imbalance in the brain involving one or two neurotransmitters (think serotonin or dopamine). But if that was the case, we'd be well on our way to solving the depression mystery. And yet there are millions of people suffering from this disease who have not been able to find relief.

Thankfully, a group of researchers at the Hope for Depression Research Foundation is working on an interdisciplinary approach to curing depression. That means that researchers in neuroscience, clinical psychiatry, genetics, and several other disciplines are collaborating to ensure that multiple angles are considered and explored, as well as their relation to each other. Not bad.

This all makes me think of the multidimensional model of wellness that I often write about in this blog. Perhaps an even wider conceptualization of depression should be considered. Depression seems to touch upon all of these types of wellness:

  • Physical - This doesn't just refer to biochemical imbalances, but also to nutrition, exercise, sleep, and health conditions that can affect mood.
  • Emotional - Depression encompasses deep emotions such as sadness and hopelessness.
  • Social - Isolation from family and friends can contribute to depression as well as result from it.
  • Spiritual - This is one of the most overlooked aspects of depression by scientists. I feel spirituality is incredibly important to a person's state of mental health.
  • Intellectual - Lack of intellectual stimulation might contribute to feelings of lack of fulfillment as well as emptiness.
  • Vocational - Job stress is rampant in our society and most likely triggers depression in many instances.
  • Environmental - Living in a dangerous neighborhood, living in poverty, or living in an environmentally hazardous area can damage well-being.

Perhaps if we considered these aspects of depression along with neuroscientific approaches, we could unravel the causes of depression and develop effective treatments, once and for all.

Source:

Friedman, R. A. (2013). A new focus on depression. The New York Times: Health & Science. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/23/a-new-focus-on-depression/?smid=pl-share