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Depression (psychological) Essay, Research Paper

Depression is one of the most common psychological problems, affecting nearly everyone through either personal experience or through depression in a family member. The cost in human suffering cannot be estimated. Depression can interfere with normal functioning, and frequently causes problems with work, social, and family adjustment. It causes pain and suffering not only to those who have a disorder, but also to those who care about them. Serious depression can destroy family life as well as the life of the depressed person.

Depression is a psychological condition that changes the way you think and feel, and also affects your social behavior and sense of physical well-being. We have all felt sad at one time or another, or have felt stressed out from work or serious problems. This is not depression because these feelings usually pass in a few days or weeks. However, once these feelings linger, intensify, and begin to interfere with normal, everyday life, it may be depression. It can affect anyone. Once identified, most people with depression are successfully treated. Many times, unfortunately, depression is not diagnosed because it can mimic physical illnesses such as sleep or appetite disorders. Recognizing it is the first step in treating it.

The debate between nature and nurture is very common in all aspects of psychology. It concerns the contributions of biology and experience. Depression can be both a thought disorder and a brain disorder. In this paper, I will discuss the nature and nurture sides of depression, as well as offering my own perspective on the two sides.

I will begin first with the nature side since our genes are with us from conception and before any experiences we can have. Some types of depression seem to run in families, suggesting a biological vulnerability. This seems to be the case with bipolar depression and, to a lesser degree, severe major depression. Studies of families, in which members of each generation develop bipolar disorder, found that those with bipolar disorder have a somewhat different genetic makeup than those who are not diagnosed. It may be genetics, or family socialization, but compared with those who have no depressed relatives, those with close family members who are or have been depressed are about twice as likely as the average individuals to become seriously depressed themselves (Franklin, 1999).

Also along the biological perspective of depression are the chemical imbalances in the brain that occur in depression. This suggests that depression is a medical illness, without psychological causes. Brain images can show the structures of depression. The left prefrontal cortex malfunctions only during bouts of depression, and the amygdala ? a small inner brain structure thought to regulate emotional reactions ? operates abnormally during and between depressive episodes. This serves as a biological marker of susceptibility to severe depression. A study by Dr. Gregory Miller of Carnegie Mellon University suggested that depression could also be associated with abnormal levels of norepinephrine and estradiol, hormones that are known to help regulate the immune system (Bower, 1992). An unhealthy mind can lead directly to an unhealthy body, therefore the old medical tag ?treat the patient, not the disease? takes on a new significance (Economist News, 1999). While there are some biological factors that contribute to depression, it is clearly a psychological disorder.

A variety of psychological factors appear to play a role in vulnerability to severe forms of depression. People who have low self-esteem, who consistently view themselves and the world with pessimism, or who are readily overwhelmed by stress are more prone to depression. Psychologists often describe social learning factors as being significant in the development of depression, as well as other psychological problems. A serious loss, chronic illness, relationship problems, work stress, family crisis, financial setback, or any unwelcome life change can trigger a depressive episode. (Burns, 1999)

Freud, in Mourning and Melancholia, published in 1917, suggests that melancholia (depression) can occur in response to an imaginary or perceived loss, and that self-critical aspects of the ego are responsible in part for depression. The main difference between these psychodynamic therapies and cognitive therapies lies in the motivational assumptions made by the therapists, and the techniques used to effect change. Psychodynamic theories presume that the maladaptive cognitions arise from internal needs (such as the need for affection, acceptance, sexual gratification, etc). The cognitive therapies presume that maladaptive cognitions may arise from faulty social learning (such as the development of coping skills), or from dysfunctional family experiences, or traumatic events, etc. In other words, psychologists using cognitive therapy approach recognize that psychological problems such as depression can develop from a variety of life experiences, depending on the individual (Franklin, 1999).

Clinicians have long noted that depression is common in people who are pursuing unreachable goals. When current life plans are not working, the distress and lack of motivation that characterize depression may motivate planning and reassessment or escape, even by suicide.

Is depression an adaptation? We don?t have the evidence needed to know for sure. However, it seems likely that low mood and related negative effects were shaped to help organisms cope with unpropitious situations. Some negative and passive aspects of depression may be useful because they inhibit dangerous or wasteful actions in situations characterized by committed pursuit of an unreachable goal, temptations to challenge authority, insufficient internal reserves to allow action without damage, or lack of a viable life strategy (Nesse, 2000).

Having studied Psychology for not even a full semester, analyzing the nature/nurture debate for depression was somewhat of a challenge. My best interpretation of it goes as follows:

Most of the articles and information I read for research on this paper pretty much stated that depression was more a psychological disorder, rather than biological. Certain types of depression were said to perhaps have a genetic effect on people. An example of that is the bipolar disorder. As stated by Dr. Franklin, studies on family generations diagnosed with bipolar disorder had a somewhat different genetic makeup than those not diagnosed. However, he also went on to state that not everyone with this genetic makeup develops this disorder. Depression can actually occur in anyone at any time. Some biological factors contribute to it, but for the most part, it is psychological and can be caused by unpleasant experiences or things of that nature.

Experiences go along with the nurture side of this whole thing. Serious losses, chronic illnesses, relationship problems, work stress, family crisis, financial setback, or change that is not welcome can be a precursor of depression. Recent research suggested that severe childhood emotional trauma plays a role in depression of women. It was found that 37% of depressed women reported significant physical or sexual abuse by age 21. This can be an example of the way personal experiences account for cases of depression.

Another psychological aspect of depression is that it can inhibit the immune system. In the study by Dr. Miller and his colleagues, they found that the depressed subjects had very different ways of life than the controls. They smoked more, drank more caffeine, slept more fitfully, and exercised less. Only one of these differences, that in physical activity proved to have a relationship with lymphocyte production. Dr. Miller found that physical activity accounted for about half of the difference in immunity between depressed and normal subjects.

There are many more examples of depression being linked to either biological factors or psychological factors. Very often it is a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors that are involved in the development of depressive disorders, as well as other psychological problems. Luckily, there are various treatments that all seem to work well in curbing the effects of depression. The debate on whether nature or nurture plays a bigger role is a huge deal throughout all of psychology. Depression is just one of the many disorders more commonly discussed with nature/nurture.

Bowden, Bruce. ?Brain images show structure of depression? Science News,

Sept. 12, 1992, v.142, n.11, pg. 165

?The power of negative thinking.? The Economist, Dec. 18, 1999 v.353 i.8150 pg.127

Nesse, Randolph M. ?Is Depression an Adaptation??, Archives of General Psychiatry, Jan 2000, v.57 i.1 copyright 2000, American Medical Association.

Franklin, Donald J. A Guide to Depression, Psychology Information Online, copyright 1999.

Burns, David. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, April 1999, New York, NY.

The World Book Medical Encyclopedia, ?Depression?, pgs.244-245, copyright 1991, World Book, Inc. Chicago, IL.

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