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Biology 103
2003 Second Paper
On Serendip

Fighting More Than the Blues: A Look into Depressive Disorders

Paula Arboleda


This paper will focus on depressive disorders, and it will describe what they are, how they manifest themselves, what causes them and/or what makes certain individuals susceptible to the disorder as compared to others. This piece will also describe the most common treatment practices, and the effectiveness of these treatments. It will conclude by offering some testimonials from individuals who suffer from depressive disorders as well as some additional commentary about depressive disorders and their implications/challenges.

What is depression?

A depressive disorder is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. A depressive disorder is exactly that—a disorder; therefore, people with a depressive illness cannot will themselves to get better they can't just pull themselves together. A depressive disorder requires treatment. (1) ("Depression 1)

Are there different types of depressive disorders?

Depressive disorders take on different forms. There are three common types of depressive disorders. They are major depression, dysthymia, and bipolar disorder. Major depression is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with an individual's ability to work, study, sleep, and eat. Symptoms include but are not limited to the following: persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood, feelings of hopelessness, feelings of guilt, helplessness, worthlessness, decreased energy, fatigue, appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and weight gain, thoughts of death or suicide among others. This depression episode is said to occur once, but may occur several times in a lifetime. Dysthymia, on the other hand, is a less severe type of depression, and is characterized by long-term, chronic symptoms that prevent one from functioning well or feeling good, but that are not disabling. People who suffer from dysthymia can experience major depressive episodes at some point in their lives. Another type of depressive disorder is bipolar depression, which is characterized by cycling mood changes—severe highs (mania) and lows (depression). Mood changes are usually gradual in people who suffer from bipolar disorder but they can also be dramatic and rapid. Mania is said to affect thinking, judgment, and social behavior. People who suffer from depressive disorders do not experience every symptom; some experience many symptoms, others experience few ones. Their intensity/severity varies from person to person. (2). (Depression: An Overview 1-2)

What are the causes of depressive disorders?

It cannot be stated with much certainty what causes depression, or what makes an individual more susceptible to depression than another; however, some evidence indicates that depressed people have imbalances in the brain's neurotransmitters, the chemicals that allow communication between nerve cells. Serotonin and norepinephrine are two neurotransmitters whose low levels are thought to play an important role. At the same time, the importance of environmental factors cannot be dismissed and when environmental factors are combined with biochemical or genetic disposition, life stressors may cause the disease to manifest itself. Substance abuse and side effects from prescription medication may lead to depressive disorders as well. (3). (Nordenberg, 3-4).

How is depression treated?

One of the major approaches for treating depression is the use of anti-depressant medications. The effects of anti-depressants on the brain are yet to be understood, but, it is believed that they restore the brain's chemical balance. Anti-depressant medications can control depressive symptoms in four to eight weeks. At the same time, different drugs work in different ways for different; hence, it is difficult to predict how people will respond to anti-depressant medications and their side effects (4). (Nordenberg, 4-6). People with milder forms of depression may respond favorably to psychotherapy; however, it is common for people with moderate to sever depression to benefit from both the use of anti-depressants and psychotherapy. Lastly, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is used by people who suffer from severe depression or by people whose depression is life threatening or for those who cannot take anti-depressant medications. ECT is most effective where anti-depressants can't provide sufficient relief of symptoms. In order for ECT to be effective, several sessions are necessary, usually three sessions per week. (5). ("Depression: An Overview" 5-7).


The purpose of this section is to give voice and in a sense an opportunity for suffers of depression to express what depression feels like, the challenges that treatments or their failure pose on their lives, goals, personal sustainability, a space to express frustration but also hope.

Every minute feels like a week when I'm waiting to see if something will work.
It's like the worst migraine of your life, and it seems like it will never go away.
Nothing disturbs me more than when someone tries to describe something as complicated as a mental state with something as simplistic as serotonin levels.
I still have people tell me that I should cheer up because I have nothing to be depressed about, as if I had a choice in the matter.
So many people have worked hard to make me well, so I'm trying my damnedest hardest to cope with this. (6).

Final Comments

Depressive disorders and the people who suffer from these disorders must be better understood and analyzed before treatment can be effective. It is also a society's responsibility to better educate its citizens about this disorder not only to dispense more accurate information, but also to dispel myths, misinformation, and, ultimately, to help lessen the stigma that goes along with suffering from depression and being treated for it. Depression is not about dusting yourself off and trying again, it is not a character flaw, and it cannot be "cured" by popping a Prozac, or Tegretol, or Wellbutrin. It is in recognizing that depression like many other disorders is not so concrete, is not something that can be pointed to and identified as what it is, and then dealt with, that we, as human beings, as individuals that suffer from depression, as people who know people who suffer from depression, can begin to educate and inform others about the realities of this disorder.


1) Depression. National Institute of Mental Health, 26 Oct. 2003.

2) Depression: An Overview, Continuing Medical Education. 26 Oct. 2003.

3) Dealing with the Depths of Depression, Nordenberg, Liora. "Dealing with the Depths of Depression." 26 Oct. 2003, pp 3-4.

4) Dealing with the Depths of Depression , Nordenberg, Liora. "Dealing with the Depths of Depression." 26 Oct. 2003, pp 4-6.

5) Depression. National Institute of Mental Health

6) Melancholy Nation , Schrof, Joannie M, and Stacey Schultz. "Melancholy Nation." U.S. News & World Report

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