+416-962-0778

Understanding Depression

February 10th, 2010

source: The London Times, Depressed? Don't blame your genes.

A recent article entitled, “Depressed? Don’t blame your genes” printed in the U.K.’s London Times caught my eye last month. It was published to coincide with January 18th, the day that many psychologists claim is the most depressing of the year. The article, written by Oliver James (author of “Britain on the Couch”) was an expose on the “crippling depression” that appears to be the modern scourge of our modern society.

James noted that many people are in the habit of blaming their genes and he cited the observation that many people continue to invoke the idea of a gene for depression. It turns out this assertion is complete hogwash and that one of the most interesting developments in recent years has been the growing conviction amongst scientists that genes play little or no role in depression. Indeed, James correctly notes that the Human Genome Project, which mapped all our species’ DNA, has not reliably identified a single example of a gene for mental illness whatsoever.

James and I are also in agreement that there is, in contrast, “buckers of evidence” supporting an environmental role in the development of depression. For example, the quality of care you receive in your early years, and the kind of society in which you live are big contributing factors for a person’s risk of developing depression. Hence, if the care a person receives during their first year of life was unresponsive, they are already at greater risk for depression, especially in that as a toddler they will then come to expect the worst.

James and I are also in agreement about what constitutes the ‘best cure’ or best treatment for depression. If you’re going to get better, you are going to have to talk to someone who can effectively find out what is really bothering you.  A major aspect of the work will need to involve some kind of examination of how parental care in the early years of your life affected you. I am in full agreement with James that psychodynamic therapy is usually a better bet for you than the much touted cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).  James points out that recent studies are beginning to substantiate that the best talking cure, with some modification, is the one invented by Freud. Finally, unless a person is really desperate, they should exercise caution if intending to rely on anti-depressants for a ‘cure’. Apart from having to put up with some challenging and unpleasant side effects, in most cases, even if they do have an effect, it is no better than placebo.