Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Reply to comment

natsu's picture

A depressed brain state?

Several people have mentioned during class and in this forum that taking drugs to fix problems instead of undergoing therapy is easy, which really surprised me.  Personally, I had always thought that the idea of taking drugs is psychologically much more difficult to accept than therapy, but maybe this is just a cultural difference?  Also, there is another thing that came to my mind that is related to this issue of which is more “easy” (drug vs. therapy).  I once wrote a research paper on neurotic perfectionism when I was taking the course Abnormal Psychology, and I remember reading that perfectionism is highly correlated with depression and OCD (which really didn’t surprise me).  Wouldn’t people who are perfectionists feel defeated if they have to depend on a pill to fix their problem? Wouldn’t these people want to fight and overcome their problems with their own will?  Of course I know that depression does not only happen among perfectionists and high-achievers, but I don’t think that everybody who takes drugs takes them because they feel that it is the easy way out of their problem.  For many people, including some that I know personally, the decision to take drugs comes after a lot of thought and is a way to help them reach a mind of state that would allow them to rationally process and think about their problems so that they can actually benefit from therapy.  For this mean, I think that drugs can play an important role.

I also read the BBC article that Marissa posted (and would encourage anybody who hasn’t read it yet to do so) but I personally can’t agree with the post above that “maybe when we’re not happy this is in fact adaptive, and by trying to “fix” it we’re not really helping the person”.  When you read the comments at the end of the article, it is clear that the people who talk of any kind of gain from their depression are people who overcame depression and are no longer suffering from the disorder.  I think that this is a very different situation from, say, a mother  with a child with autism who says that no matter how hard it can be sometimes, she is still glad that she has her child because she has learned so much from him.  I personally think that depression is the clearest disorder (i.e. I am perfectly comfortable calling depression a disorder though I do question calling other states that are generally labeled as a disorder like autism) and if I were a physician, I would not question trying to fix it, since I don’t think people can really benefit from it (if they do at all) unless they overcome it.

Before we start talking about whether depression should be fixed or not, it seems like it is important to think about what depression is.  I was intrigued by the question that was raised in class and restated in Danielle’s post: “do we assume depression is a disorder or is it just a particular brain state?”  When the idea that the depressive mind state may be more adaptive or skilled in some ways was brought up in class, I remember questioning Professor Grobstein about this because I had personally always thought that a crucial criterion of depression is that the individual must want to overcome the excruciating pain associated with the fear and sadness that he/she is experiencing.  In other words, it is hard for me to think that one can be diagnosed with depression if he/she is not wanting to overcome depression, no matter what the brain looks like on a neuroimaging scan.  I don’t think that looking at the brain state is necessary to diagnose depression; if an individual is reporting hopelessness, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, that should be enough for person to receive the appropriate help and treatment.  In fact, I think the idea of a “depressed brain state” could be dangerous.  If physicians start labeling people with depression just because of what their brain looks like on an image, this could lead to negative consequences…


To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
5 + 3 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.