Another Postcard from the Neuroscience Reading Room

by Apr 23, 2012Depression Treatment, Neuroscience, Psychic Pain, Theory

Photo by Ambro

Researchers out of University of California in San Diego have a new idea about depression.  It makes sense to me and I want to share a paraphrase of their article with you.

Karen Wager-Smith and Athina Markou hypothesize that stressful life events cause depressive episodes, and that this stress can create actual microdamage and inflammation in the brain.  Like any injury, a body needs time to repair and recuperate.  Wager-Smith and Markou say that the brain does too.  There are episodes of psychic pain—much like the pain of a broken limb along with lethargy and a withdrawal from life.  Depression can clear after a couple months or become chronic, just like any other illness.  Antidepressant therapy—talk or medication—can ensure that the depression goes away and stays gone.

Even if they turn out to be wrong (and I doubt it given the exhaustive reference section), it’s a useful metaphor for thinking about depression and taking yourself off the hook in the process.  Something stressful happened; it caused injury to your brain.  Your body needs time and care to get better.  During this time, you might not be as productive and social as you’d like.  You might not read as many books or run a 10K.  You wouldn’t make yourself walk the High Line with a broken hip, would you?

Something happened.  It hurts.  Your body needs time and care to repair itself.  Take that time and be kind to your recovering self.

This post is based on findings from:  “Depression:  A repair response to stress-induced neuronal microdamage that can grade into a chronic neuroinflammatory condition?” by Wager-Smith and Markou.  It appeared in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 2011, Volume 35.

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Elizabeth Singer is a therapist and anger management specialist in New York City

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