Friday, June 08, 2007

What Causes Depression? You Ask

An answer to the WikiAnswer question, "What are the causes of depression?"

The simple answer is nature and nurture. It's sort of a "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" conundrum, and this goes for many human conditions and illnesses besides depression.

Genetics play a part, probably the biggest role in determining whether or not and HOW we experience "clinical" depression (as opposed to the normal disappointments, blues and sadness of a fully lived life). No wonder many still don't think depression is a "real illness" since it seems to be just an acute case of what most people feel at some times in their lives. But depression the illness has staying power and debilitating aspects that aren't "normal."

Our genetics set us up for a propensity to behaviors, moods, actions and interactions which reinforce and prolong the recognizable symptoms of depression, such as lethargy, irritability, feelings of hopelessness and even suicide. The genes are at work before we ever learn to manipulate, much less control, our behavior. The genes are working in the womb and when we're one and two and four and twelve. So what seem like cocky or cranky or confrontational or irritable or moody or depressed moods are driven by cogs deep inside us.

Some of us have more predispositions than others. Some have supportive environments to offset the genes. Others suffer in environments which actually pray on the symptoms and increase, intensify and prolong the depression.

Then there are those who, through their own peculiar stews of nature and nurture, become "highly sensitive" (some might say overly sensitive types), and these people tend to catch real grief for their moods and conditions and disorders.

Our genes are at work before we ever have a world view. But our world view starts to form and kicks in with all sorts of factors at play, from genes to parents to nutrition to social support to all sorts of intelligences and inclinations.

This culture applauds a nearly manic form of "snap to it" drive and "just do it" workaholism. No wonder the disease of depression and those who have depression are still, even with some increased awareness, mocked and marginalized, as if it really were a failure of will power.

As a significant resource in this context, I can recommend one book especially, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, by Elaine Aron, Ph.D. This book offers real encouragement to those who, for whatever reason, are at odds with and discouraged by their surroundings.


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