Tagdepression

Researchers discover that stress isn’t a modern invention

Using modern forensic technology and a decidedly modern understanding of biochemistry, researchers from The University of Western Ontario have taken a look at stress levels in pre-Colombian Peru; their findings are summarized in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science. They found that stress has plagued humanity for at least 1500 years. The researchers were able to get the dead to give up not only their final secrets, but an understanding of their life for a few years before they shuffled off this mortal coil.

When humans get stressed, our bodies release a chemical known as cortisol, which appears in our blood, our urine, and even our hair. Of those three, hair is only one stands the test of over 1000 years of time, and provides a short history of the last years that its owner had. By examining hair strands from 10 individuals at five different dig sites in Peru, the researchers were able to determine how stressed people were, using the levels of cortisol in segments of their hair.

Ars Technica: The prehistory of stress

(Thanks Paul)

Depression as Deadly as Smoking, Study Finds

A study by researchers at the University of Bergen, Norway, and the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King’s College London has found that depression is as much of a risk factor for mortality as smoking.

Utilising a unique link between a survey of over 60,000 people and a comprehensive mortality database, the researchers found that over the four years following the survey, the mortality risk was increased to a similar extent in people who were depressed as in people who were smokers.

Dr Robert Stewart, who led the research team at the IoP, explains the possible reasons that may underlie these surprising findings: ‘Unlike smoking, we don’t know how causal the association with depression is but it does suggest that more attention should be paid to this link because the association persisted after adjusting for many other factors.’

The study also shows that patients with depression face an overall increased risk of mortality, while a combination of depression and anxiety in patients lowers mortality compared with depression alone. Dr Stewart explains: ‘One of the main messages from this research is that ‘a little anxiety may be good for you’.

Science Daily: Depression as Deadly as Smoking, Study Finds

‘Culture Of We’ Buffers Genetic Tendency To Depression

A genetic tendency to depression is much less likely to be realized in a culture centered on collectivistic rather than individualistic values, according to a new Northwestern University study.

In other words, a genetic vulnerability to depression is much more likely to be realized in a Western culture than an East Asian culture that is more about we than me-me-me.

The study coming out of the growing field of cultural neuroscience takes a global look at mental health across social groups and nations.

Depression, research overwhelmingly shows, results from genes, environment and the interplay between the two. One of the most profound ways that people across cultural groups differ markedly, cultural psychology demonstrates, is in how they think of themselves.

“People from highly individualistic cultures like the United States and Western Europe are more likely to value uniqueness over harmony, expression over agreement, and to define themselves as unique or different from the group,” said Joan Chiao, the lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.

In contrast, people from collectivist cultures are more likely to value social harmony over individuality. “Relative to people in an individualistic culture, they are more likely to endorse behaviors that increase group cohesion and interdependence,” Chiao said.

Science Daily: ‘Culture Of We’ Buffers Genetic Tendency To Depression

The cult of “positive thinking” – Barbara Ehrenreich discusses her new book on Democracy Now

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickeled and Dimed, has a new book out called Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. It sounds fascinating. She was on Democracy Now this morning:

BARBARA EHRENREICH: OK. This book could be called, you know, “What I Learned from Breast Cancer to Help Me Understand the Financial Meltdown.”

But I was diagnosed about eight years ago and started reaching out, as you would do, naturally, to find support and information on the web and all that sort of thing. What I found was very different. What I found was constant exhortations to be positive, to be cheerful, to even embrace the disease as if it were a gift. You know, if that’s your idea of a gift, take me off your Christmas list, is my feeling. And this puzzled me. But it went along with the idea that you would not get better unless you mobilized all these positive thoughts all the time, which, by the way, I’m happy to tell you, there’s nothing to that. I mean, there’s been sufficient scientific research now that we know that your mood does not, you know, dictate whether you will get better or not. But, you know, imagine the burden that is on somebody who’s already suffering from a very serious disease, and then, in addition, they have to worry about constantly working on their mood, you know, like a second illness.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the research. I think that’s going to surprise people, what you just said. I mean, years ago, you were in biology. You were at Rockefeller University.

BARBARA EHRENREICH: Oh, yeah. No, I—and here it finally came in useful. I think there’s a widespread idea—it sounds so familiar that, you know, you would, you know, just let it go right by you—which is that your immune system will be boosted if you are thinking positively. Well, there’s not a whole lot to that. There’s not a whole lot to support that. And furthermore, more to the point here, it’s not clear that the immune system has anything to do with recovery from cancer or with whether you get it in the first place. Now, I had—I guess I had kind of accepted those things, too. But that is the ideology, though, that you find in so many other areas of American life, too, that if you—you can control things with your mind, if you just have the right thoughts and attitudes. There is nothing in the material world that’s causing your problem; it’s all within you.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And how did this ideology, this positive thinking movement, become so pervasive in American society? You document its rise in the culture.

BARBARA EHRENREICH: Yeah, well, I go back to the nineteenth century, because I’m always interested in history. But it really began to take off in a very big way in about the ’80s and ’90s, because the corporate world got very interested in it, got interested in it during the age of downsizing, because it was a way to say to the person who was losing his or her job, just as you would say to the breast cancer patient, “This is in your mind. You know, you can overcome this. If you—if something bad has happened to you, that must mean you have a bad attitude. And now, if you want everything to be alright, just focus your thoughts in this new positive way, and you’ll be OK.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have read people who have lost their jobs in this recession in the newspaper saying, “But I’m trying so hard to be positive.” Well, maybe there’s no reason to be positive. Maybe you should be angry, you know? I mean, there is a place for that in the world.

Democracy Now: Author Barbara Ehrenreich on “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined
America”

She seems to have had a busy day: she also appeared on Talk of the Nation today. NPR has the interview, and excerpt from the book.

See also:

Think Negative! Oprah, it’s time to come clean about The Secret

Black Swans

How to Be Lucky and Be a Survivor

The Luck Factor

Previous posts tagged happiness and depression.

Depression’s Evolutionary Roots

Depression seems to pose an evolutionary paradox. Research in the US and other countries estimates that between 30 to 50 percent of people have met current psychiatric diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder sometime in their lives. But the brain plays crucial roles in promoting survival and reproduction, so the pressures of evolution should have left our brains resistant to such high rates of malfunction. Mental disorders should generally be rare — why isn’t depression? […]

In an article recently published in Psychological Review, we argue that depression is in fact an adaptation, a state of mind which brings real costs, but also brings real benefits. […]

So what could be so useful about depression? Depressed people often think intensely about their problems. These thoughts are called ruminations; they are persistent and depressed people have difficulty thinking about anything else. Numerous studies have also shown that this thinking style is often highly analytical. They dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.

This analytical style of thought, of course, can be very productive. Each component is not as difficult, so the problem becomes more tractable. Indeed, when you are faced with a difficult problem, such as a math problem, feeling depressed is often a useful response that may help you analyze and solve it. For instance, in some of our research, we have found evidence that people who get more depressed while they are working on complex problems in an intelligence test tend to score higher on the test. […]

Depression is nature’s way of telling you that you’ve got complex social problems that the mind is intent on solving. Therapies should try to encourage depressive rumination rather than try to stop it, and they should focus on trying to help people solve the problems that trigger their bouts of depression. (There are several effective therapies that focus on just this.) It is also essential, in instances where there is resistance to discussing ruminations, that the therapist try to identify and dismantle those barriers.

For those who think modernity or civilization or technology is the problem:

Or, perhaps, depression might be like obesity — a problem that arises because modern conditions are so different from those in which we evolved. Homo sapiens did not evolve with cookies and soda at the fingertips. Yet this is not a satisfactory explanation either. The symptoms of depression have been found in every culture which has been carefully examined, including small-scale societies, such as the Ache of Paraguay and the !Kung of southern Africa — societies where people are thought to live in environments similar to those that prevailed in our evolutionary past.

Scientific American: Depression’s Evolutionary Roots

(via Theoretick)

Ketamine Reduces Suicidality In Depressed Patients, Study Suggests

Drug treatment options for depression can take weeks for the beneficial effects to emerge, which is clearly inadequate for those at immediate risk of suicide. However, intravenous (IV) ketamine, a drug previously used as an anesthetic, has shown rapid antidepressant effects in early trials. […]

Since this was a preliminary study in a small group of depressed patients, further research is needed to replicate these results. However, the findings are promising and could result in improved treatment for suicidal patients in the future.

ScienceDaily: Ketamine Reduces Suicidality In Depressed Patients, Study Suggests

Against Happiness: is depression actually good for us?

The English professor at Wake Forest University wants to be clear that he is not “romanticizing” clinical depression and that he believes it is a serious condition that should be treated.

But he worries that today’s cornucopia of antidepressants – used to treat even what he calls “mild to moderate sadness” – might make “sweet sorrow” a thing of the past.

“And if that happens, I wonder, what will the future hold? Will our culture become less vital? Will it become less creative?” he asks.

[…]

We can picture this in the primitive world. While the healthy bodies of the tribe were out mindlessly hacking beasts or other humans, the melancholy soul remained behind brooding in a cave or under a tree. There he imagined new structures, oval and amber, or fresh verbal rhythms, sacred summonings, or songs superior to even those of the birds. Envisioning these things, and more, this melancholy malingerer became just as useful for his culture as did the hunters and the gatherers for theirs. He pushed his world ahead. He moved it forward. He dwelled always in the insecure realm of the avant-garde.

This primitive visionary was the first of many such avant-garde melancholics. Of course not all innovators are melancholy, and not all melancholy souls are innovative. However, the scientifically proved relationship between genius and depression, between gloom and greatness suggests that the majority of our cultural innovators, ranging from the ancient dreamer in the bush to the more recent Dadaist in the city, have grounded their originality in the melancholy mood. We can of course by now understand why.

Full Story: NPR.

Counter arguments: Hedonistic Imperative.

Whipping therapy cures depression and suicide crises

Russian scientists from the city of Novosibirsk, Siberia, made a sensational report at the international conference devoted to new methods of treatment and rehabilitation in narcology. The report was called “Methods of painful impact to treat addictive behavior.”

Siberian scientists believe that addiction to alcohol and narcotics, as well as depression, suicidal thoughts and psychosomatic diseases occur when an individual loses his or her interest in life. The absence of the will to live is caused with decreasing production of endorphins – the substance, which is known as the hormone of happiness. If a depressed individual receives a physical punishment, whipping that is, it will stir up endorphin receptors, activate the ‘production of happiness’ and eventually remove depressive feelings.

Full Story: Pravda.

(Thanks Danny Chaoflux).

William S. Burroughs:

Danger is a biological necessity for humans, just like sleep and dreams. If you face death, for that time you are immortal. For the Western middle classes, danger is a rarity and erupts only with a sudden, random shock. And yet we are in danger at all times, since our death exists. Is there a technique for confronting death without immediate physical danger? (quoted from Hashisheen: The End of Law)

Deep brain stimulation to treat depression

From The Guardian:

Sufferers from depression who do not respond to existing treatments could soon benefit from a new procedure in which electrodes are inserted into the core of the brain and used to alter the patient’s mood.

Later this year, scientists at Bristol University will conduct the first trials of the so-called deep brain stimulation method on sufferers from depression. They will use hair-thin electrodes to stimulate two different parts of the brains of eight patients who suffer from an extreme form of recurrent unipolar depression – where mood only swings in one direction.

If the trials are successful, deep brain stimulation could be extended to the estimated 50,000 people in the UK who suffer from depression but cannot be helped by drugs or electroconvulsive therapy.

Full Story: Guardian: Deep brain stimulation to treat depression

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