The Human Costs of Clinical Depression

I Just Want to be Left Alone

Why can't they just leave me alone?
Why can't they just leave me alone? | Source

I'm Too Depressed to Get Out of Bed, Pay Bills...: Shining Some Light on the Hidden Costs of Depression

In this article I attempt to shed light on some of the things that aren't normally considered or discussed regarding clinical depression. I'll shine light on the dark areas that nobody wants to admit to, even people with depression and those in the mental health field.

Although the list of damage done by depression is endless, so is the denial of this damage and even of the depression itself.

"I didn't do anything to deserve this and nothing bad happened to me. I have the perfect life! I shouldn't be depressed! I can't be depressed. Maybe if I ignore it and pretend to be happy it will just go away on its own..."

Depression Can Strike at Any Age

Did you know that clinical depression can strike anyone at any age?

  • Yes.
  • No!
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Clinical Depression Needs to be Treated

Did you know that clinical depression usually doesn't go away on its own, without treatment?

  • Yes.
  • No!
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First of All, What Clinical Depression Is NOT

Clinical depression is a very common and very misunderstood disease, probably because everyone feels "depressed" (sad) sometimes. Clinical depression is nothing like "having the blues" or having a "bad day", or feeling "sad", and it is very different from the loss you feel when you grieve the death of someone you love. You also can't "snap out of it", it almost never goes away on its own (seasonal depression is only in remission during the summer months, it's still there and still needs to be treated).

Clinical depression is NOT a natural thing that all older people get, though most doctors will tell you that it is and does not need treatment: it does, studies prove it and prove that treatment of the clinical depression will improve the outcome of any other diseases the older person may have, also, such as diabetes, cancer, or heart disease, to name just a few.

Clinical depression can and does strike children, too: people of all ages can be afflicted with depression and should all be treated for it.

Don't fool yourself: no matter how strong or stubborn you are, you won't be able to get rid of clinical depression without getting cognitive behavioral therapy and anti-depressant medications--note the "s" on "medications". Your child won't "just grow out of it". Even mild clinical depression, or dysthymia, must be treated to get rid of it and get on with the life you were meant to have.

And, make no mistake: depression CAN and very well MAY kill you if you pretend it doesn't exist or will go away on its own. The good news is that some people are totally cured/in long-term remission if treated early and with the right medication/therapy and help, support, and love (acceptance of the situation) from family and friends.

Financial Costs of Depression

Clinical depression can be financially very expensive in addition to the doctor's bills and prescription costs.

People with depression miss a lot more work than those without it and, even when present, are often not working as efficiently as they could be. They may miss so much work time that they are fired or their paychecks are greatly reduced. Depression patients often have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, so they are often late to work no matter how hard they try to be on time.

Other costs of depression are less obvious. Missing personal deadlines, such as paying bills on time, reading the mail regularly, and attending parties and other social events. People with depression also pay more late fees for library books, videos, and paying bills late. Also, if there is an error in a bill or in a product they ordered and had delivered, a person with depression is less likely to troubleshoot the problem because making the phone calls and filling out paperwork and meeting deadlines may be overwhelming.

"I'm too tired to open the mail today, and it's always bad news anyway. It can wait until tomorrow."

"We can't go for a walk today, either? Then WHEN?"
"We can't go for a walk today, either? Then WHEN?" | Source

Relationships and Depression

Relationships of all kinds are very difficult for the person with depression to form and maintain. Explaining depression (major depressive disorder) to someone who has never had it, or had a form different from yours, is nearly impossible. Right away, communications between the depressed person and others is broken down because of this inability to find the words to describe a disease that is so complex and all-encompassing.

"It hurts so much to live, can't they see that? Why can't they understand? I can't 'just snap out of it' any more than someone with cancer or asthma could."

Relationships are also difficult because depression is an invisible disability that, unlike breast cancer or diabetes, has not yet had the media coverage and attention to make the public more aware of the signs, symptoms, and treatments. Instead, the stigma of mental illness is attached to the afflicted person, and the disease is either ignored or ridiculed by most people, who confuse clinical depression (Major Depressive Disorder) with having a bad day or having the blues, being really sad because something bad happened, or even of having someone die and going through the bereavement process.

"Killing myself isn't a 'choice' I can make, and it's not to punish anyone. It's just something that happens, like a sneeze or a hiccup, and I don't have any real control over it."

Romantic relationships are hit particularly hard by this disease because both the disease and most of the common treatments for it reduce the person's interest in sex. A person without depression may even try to help the person snap out of it by trying to entertain them with comedy or get them out to fun parties, whereby the person with depression feels even less understood by their partner and like they are alone in a room filled with strangers.

"If depression is 'just my way of getting attention', it's a pretty ineffective strategy since I've pushed away everyone I care about."

Many people with depression cannot maintain relationships for long periods of time, even with family and close friends, and yet this is what they need desperately to help them survive this disease.

"It's 10 a.m. and already I can't wait to go home from work."
"It's 10 a.m. and already I can't wait to go home from work." | Source

Education/Work Attendance with Depression

Attendance at school or work or other activities typically suffers greatly if a person has depression.

"It's not that I don't care, I just can't get out of bed. I just want to stay safely under the covers today. Maybe I'll be better tomorrow."

The person may show up late or not at all, and may not even feel well enough to call in sick. The person may miss 20-25% of school or work days due to depression-related symptoms, or they may be totally disabled and unable to go to work or school at all.

Another common reason for school/work absence is the increased need for doctors' and therapists' appointments, which invariably occur during business hours. After such appointments the person may not be able to return to work because they may be too upset, they may need to go to the pharmacy and switch medicines quickly (which makes them sick or unable to drive), or it's just not practical given traffic and distances and the time involved.

Did you Know That Depression Had Physical Symptoms?

Before reading this article, did you know that clinical depression had many physical symptoms?

  • Yes.
  • I wondered, but wasn't sure.
  • No.
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Physical Symptoms of Depression

Most people don't realize that a person dealing with depression likely has many physical symptoms, too, either due to the disease itself or due to the medicines prescribed to treat it.

"I hurt all over, head to toe. Nothing's wrong specifically, I just hurt really bad."

Some common physical symptoms of depression are:

  • exhaustion
  • failure to eat regularly or eating too much
  • sleeping too much or too little (being exhausted in either case)
  • greater susceptibility to other illnesses
  • shortened life span
  • osteoporosis (bone density loss)
  • leaden paralysis (heaviness of the body)
  • crying
  • lowered ability to exercise to maintain minimum fitness, even though exercise has been shown to be helpful in reducing symptoms of depression in many people
  • unspecific feelings of pain
  • moving slowly or in slow motion


"Here I am again, waiting to die. Hoping the pain will stop."

Some common physical symptoms of depression treatments (psychotherapy and/or prescription drugs) are:

  • tiredness or exhaustion
  • fuzzy and/or slow thinking
  • nightmares
  • dry mouth
  • headaches
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • gastrointestinal distresses
  • impaired ability to drive or operate dangerous machinery
  • reduced or complete loss of sex drive/interest
  • inability or unwise to get pregnant while taking certain medicines
  • "Roller coaster" symptoms as medicines begin to wear off and before the next dose is taken
  • Major longer-term roller coaster symptoms as one medicine is being tapered off in dosage over the course of a week or two and another type of medicine is being ramped up in dosage over the course of a few weeks

Source

Social Costs of Depression

Social relationships and activities are very difficult for someone with depression.

"They're my friends and I want to go see them, but I just can't. I just don't want to, even though I know I'll have a good time when I'm there--it's just way too much work to get from here to there and back again safely."

The person with depression may want to have people around for support while, at the same time, pushing those supporters away because of the symptoms of their illness.

Other reasons for strained or broken relationships are broken promises, missed activities, showing up late when it really mattered, being unsupportive of those around them (because they have enough trouble supporting themselves), and showing up but exhibiting an "attitude" that turns people away.

A person with depression may have trouble keeping a clean house and tidy appearance, therefore they may be hesitant to have guests, even for a short while, because they are embarrassed at how bad things have gotten and know that others won't understand.

Finally, the person with depression is typically consumed by it--it's all they can think about--therefore conversations with friends and family are either very limited or very depression-focused, making it seem like the person with depression only cares about themselves when in fact they may be calling out for help.

I'm just so very tired of it all--maybe it will go away if I close my eyes.
I'm just so very tired of it all--maybe it will go away if I close my eyes. | Source

What did you know?

How much of this article was news to you, and how much did you already know?

  • I knew most or all of it. Some, too well.
  • I knew a little bit about it, but not what the reason was behind it.
  • This was all news to me. I didn't realize that depression was a disease, I thought [my loved one] was just being lazy and grumpy.
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Depression Costs Lifetime Successes

The person with depression may have few of what others consider "lifetime successes", such as buying a house or having a family or even maintaining relationships for more than a few months.

"Do they have any idea how much energy it takes just to get out of bed every morning, and to keep breathing in and out, let alone accomplish anything?"

Often the depressed person is accused of not "living up to their potential" or "not trying hard enough" or even of "being lazy". Some are told to "laugh it off" or "just get over it." These accusations are doubly hurtful since that's what the depressed person is striving with all of their energy to do--stay alive and be successful--while at the same time realizing that they are "failing" by common standards and their life is slipping away, day after day without proper treatment.

"The dark

in the morning

covers the world around

and I wait

for the sun

to come

to life."

.

.

.

About the Author

Information about the author, a list of her complete works on HubPages, and a means of contacting her are available over on ==>Laura Schneider's profile page. But wait--please leave ratings and any comments you have about this article so that it can be improved to best meet your needs. Thank you!


All text, photos, videos, and graphics in this document are Copyright © 2009 Laura D. Schneider unless indicated otherwise or unless in the public domain. All rights reserved. All trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.

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Comments 22 comments

tim-tim profile image

tim-tim 6 years ago from Normal, Illinois

Great hub. Thanks for the information.


Earl Hemminger 6 years ago

What can a person without depression do to help a person with it?


Georzetta profile image

Georzetta 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

Yes, that would be my question as well. Even know I know the member of my family is depressed and on medication, there are times when I feel like just being around them is toxic to me.

I want to help but not at the cost of my own sense of well-being.


Baileybear 6 years ago

Excellent article. Will link to my personal experience about depression


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 4 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

What can a person without depression do to help a person with it? Primarily just accept what they say at face-value and don't read too much into it. If they say that they feel bad, that doesn't mean they expect (or that you even can) make them feel better. Most importantly, make sure they are seeing a real psychiatrist for this sometimes fatal illness because family doctors statistically have been shown to get poorer results from their treatments for their patients. If the first doctor doesn't 'click' with the depressed person, make sure they keep seeking help until they are cured. Doctors have an attitude that an 80% improvement is considered successful. Would you be satisfied if your cancer were 80% improved? Your impacted tooth? Your eyesight?


Paul Townsed 3 years ago

Depression is not a disease, you can not catch it.


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 3 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

I respectfully disagree with your logic. It is not a transmissable disease, I agree there, but many diseases, including heart disease, asthma, allergies, arthritis, COPD, stroke, cancer, and many more diseases are legitimate diseases that are not "transmissable", except perhaps by way of genetics that we don't fully understand yet.


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 3 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

Paul Townsed, perhaps you are confusing "depression" (clinical depression) with "sadness". Sadness is not a disease, but it can be a symptom of a disease. I believe they have even shown that it is transmissable--like yawning--but I'm not positive about that. Certainly you can "catch" sadness if something bad happens to you, such as someone dying, being fired from your job, getting a traffic ticket, or losing your wallet. I don't think that many people who have had clinical depression would agree that it wasn't a disease, and a remarkably high percent of the population suffers from it in their lifetime--I believe 20% of people each year could be diagnosed with clinical depression (although, due to stigma, few are, and even fewer receive treatment for it).


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 3 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

You're very welcome!


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 3 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

Thank you! I look forward to reading your article as well.


gsidley profile image

gsidley 3 years ago from Lancashire, England

A well-written, informative hub packed with lots of useful information.

However, I have some sympathy with Paul Townsend's comment, but for different reasons. I think we have to be careful about the language we use and the word "disease" is inappropriate (and unhelpful) when referring to depression. To be a disease there has to be some clear, underlying biological pathology that is the primary cause of the problem. Thus, cancer, tuberculosis and diabetes are diseases. Depression can be a severe and disabling disorder and, yes, a lot of help (therapy and/or medication) may be necessary for recovery. But it is not a disease, as the evidence for any primary biological basis (in contrast to the wild claims of the pharmaceutical industry) is flimsy.


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 3 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

Respectfully, I disagree and think that your information is way outdated on the progress made in this field. See the physical difference in brain activity between a depressed/non-depressed brains in this PET scan: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/medical/IM00356

Human and animal studies by reputable researchers and institutions, done over the last 10-15 years, have proven depression is physical beyond all doubt in my mind. This knowledge has yet to transfer to and sink in with some members of the public, who prefer to blame the victim or blame it on the fact that no good cure-all has been found yet.

The following tests, both human and animal, have all proven the physical nature of depression: genetic exams showing genetic errors (bad DNA), PET scans of live brains showing dramatic differences (see link above), post-mortem exams showing that part of the prefrontal cortex has shrunk, simple EEG tests showing incorrect messaging activity in the brain, commonly skewed blood test results, and even epidemiology studies proving that depression is inherited (genetic) in 30-40% of cases…even when a person/animal is not raised by biological parents.

I even read one research article that proved that many competent forensic scientists could not determine the difference between the brains from victims of car crash (traumatic brain injury) and those of persons who died with depression--they were surprised to hear the brains were.

If not by these methods, then how do you define a physical disease that occurs inside the body? Remember that cancer, tuberculosis, and diabetes (which you mention) as well as heart disease, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, allergies/asthma, premature ejaculation, and impotence (among many other common invisible illnesses) were all once considered "non-physical"/"just mental" disorders, too. Seems laughable today, but that's what people thought about any disease they couldn't see: it must not be physical if it's inside the body, it must be either spiritual retribution or mental disorders.

Google the following for current, scholarly information on the physical proof of depression:

"eeg depression diagnosis"

"PET scan depression diagnosis"

"post mortem depression brain examination"

Of course it's easy to say the drug companies all lie, but the truth is that most of their research is good, and some of the drugs do help, at least for some people at least for awhile... we just haven't found a LASTING cure yet. Lower stress, exercise, and a good diet help depression, just like they help everyone else, sick or healthy, but they're not the whole answer either.

We're still looking for the whole answer and wandering in the dark in the mean time. The light is starting to dawn, but we're still a long way from daylight.


gsidley profile image

gsidley 3 years ago from Lancashire, England

Thank you for taking the time to provide a detailed response. I apologise for my even more detailed reply.

I would like to make the following points:

1. One of science’s central rules is that “correlation does not imply causation.” In other words, just because two variables occur at the same time does not mean that one is causing the other. If the brains of people with depression are structurally different from the non-depressed brain there can be many reasons for this; for example, the following can have an impact on brain structure: diet, age, childhood sexual abuse, childhood physical abuse, alcohol, illicit drug use, prescribed drugs (including anti-depressants and anti-psychotics), recent traumatic experiences and bereavement.

The miracle of MRI/PET scans etc. can show transient brain activity that can represent anything from experiencing a specific emotion (anxiety, anger, sadness) to solving a complex puzzle, but it can say nothing about causation.

To demonstrate that structural brain differences cause depression you would have to carry out a longitudinal study where it is demonstrated that non-depressed people with the proposed brain aberration are significantly more likely to develop depression later in life as compared to people without the proposed brain aberration. To the best of my knowledge, such an outcome has never been demonstrated.

2. Trying to prove that mental disorders such as “schizophrenia” and depression are bio-genetic brain diseases has been the Holy Grail of biological psychiatry for over a century. Despite billions of dollars of frenetic research activity, no specific genes for schizophrenia or depression have been identified. The genetic research in this area (twin studies, adoption studies) are riddled with biases, some of them flagrant, others more subtle statistical manoeuvres. There have, of course, been a number of false dawns, where a particular gene has been implicated, but none of these have been replicated or substantiated. Even the most fanatical biological psychiatry researchers have recently been forced to admit that no such genes exist.

There will of course be a genetic contribution to depression, like there will be to any human characteristic (e.g. intelligence, extroversion). Some people’s central nervous systems will be inherently more reactive than others. But the genetic contribution to depression is unlikely to be more than 20%, and life experiences (particularly traumatic ones) are much more potent contributory factors.

It is also important to note that this huge amount of genetic research focusing on mental disorders has yet to benefit anyone – not one person with mental health problems has gained any relief. On the contrary, obsession with a genetic basis has contributed to euthanasia movements (not to mention the extermination of mental patients in pre-Nazi Germany).

3. Contrary to the drug-company literature, there is no specific biochemical imbalance underpinning mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia. With depression, serotonin and nor-epinephrine (nor-adrenaline) have been implicated but neither has been found to consistently explain the disorder. As stated in my initial response, drugs can be helpful for some people some of the time, but this likely to be associated with their general sedating effects rather than the rectifying of biochemical imbalances.

4. It is wrong to suggest that those people who reject bio-genetic causation of mental health problems lack compassion towards those afflicted. Indeed, the converse is true as it has been consistently demonstrated that bio-genetic explanations are more likely to lead to social exclusion, fear and prejudice towards the mentally ill – in other words, such explanations promote stigma against people with mental health problems. The general public find psycho-social explanations of mental disorders more plausible and recognise that people have mental problems mainly as a result of their life experiences (trauma, relationship break-up, socio-economic challenges etc). The "education” you propose tries to persuade them otherwise, despite there being a dearth of evidence to support the bio-genetic viewpoint, and in so doing inadvertently promotes stigma and exclusion.

5. Medical approaches to true diseases, like cancers, have achieved major benefits for sufferers, with treatment and survival rates improving with each passing decade. In stark contrast, there has been no improvement whatsoever in recovery rates for mental disorders and viewing these problems as diseases has been an abject failure. Indeed, there is evidence that a person with mental health problems has more chance of improving in the under-developed world than in western societies with their comprehensive psychiatric services. For the benefit of sufferers, a shift away from the bio-genetic ideology is urgently required.

I would recommend the following reading:

Doctoring the Mind by Professor Richard Bentall

A Straight-Talking Introduction to Psychiatric Drugs – Dr. Joanna Moncrieff

Models of Madness (Eds. J. Read. L.R.Mosher & R.P Bentall)


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 2 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

Cool--I like the way you think! I'll check out the resources you've recommended, also. You bring up MANY good points and I agree with some of them and agree to disagree on others. :-) Thanks for commenting!


gsidley profile image

gsidley 2 years ago from Lancashire, England

OK Laura - I enjoy a lively debate. Best wishes.


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 2 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

Thanks, gsidley! You too!

Someone in the UK did indeed find "the first" (in humans" biomarker for depression: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/10644901/Scienti... Personally, I am exceeded by genetic studies and searches for the biological causes of the otherwise untreatable non-situation-based group of depression patients--the so-called "treatment-resistant" group for whom traditional treatments don't work (or work for long). I'm excited because gene therapy is dawning as a viable cure for many diseases that previously had no (or few) means of adequate treatment. Gene therapy for various diseases has significantly helped two people who are dear to me and might have died without it. (One did die, but not until 10 years after top doctors in the nation gave her just a few months to live--she was able to see her daughter almost grown-up thanks to those extra 10 years). The other is not debilitated and wheelchair-bound because of it. I do worry about your point about Hitler's "perfect" society and sci fi's frequent condemnation of using genetic manipulation to correct errors. I only hope that as time goes on the good will out-weigh that risk. Note that at least our two societies (UK, USAK) no longer condemn persons for being HIV-positive, they are just cared for appropriately with more knowledge in how to care for them knowing what is biologically causing the symptoms Doctors are seeing..


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 2 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

Georzetta--

It is indeed a balancing act, and not fun at all, caring for someone with depression. The caretaker's life can be sucked out of them if they're not careful. Stay safe yourself and you will be that much better to helped a sick loved one in your family. Good comment and great point!


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 2 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

I wrote a HubPage about this based on your comment--you can find it on my home page (scroll down until you see it). Sadly, there is still very little that people--including doctors--can do to help the severely depressed person. The best thing to do is to make sure that they take their meds on schedule and as-prescribed, and let their doctor know if they're still doing badly on whatever medicine(s) they're taking so that a change/addition can be made. Encourage treatment-resistance patients to participate in clinical studies for new treatments, also: this is a great way of getting tomorrow's medicine today in a relatively safe and closely monitored manner.


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 2 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

Thanks for the compliment comment, tim-tim! Glad you found this useful!


gsidley profile image

gsidley 2 years ago from Lancashire, England

Hi Laura

Good to hear from you again.

I've no problem with gene therapy per se - it could achieve great benefits for diseases/illnesses with a high genetic loading. But the fundamental problem in applying it to mental health problems is that these problems do not have a high genetic contribution nor a primary biological cause. The genetic contribution to mental disorders - so called 'schizophrenia' for example - is around the same at that of constructs such as intelligence or introversion. Environment will play a prominent role - as John Read said, 'Bad things happen and can drive you crazy' (previous reference) and, as for as mental health problems are concerned, research money would be better spent on trying to reduce/offer early support for childhood abuse (physical, sexual, emotional), domestic violence, social deprivation etc.

With regards to markers for depression, again these biological researchers (often obsessed with trying to demonstrate a biological basis for disorders like depression) are confusing correlation with causation - it's a bit like saying that a marker for stress would be cortisol (a hormone in our bloodstream that is always released when be experience stressful situation); it would be silly to suggest cortisol causes stress when the cause clearly is challenging/traumatic life experiences.

Thanks again for the debate.

Best wishes


Laura Schneider profile image

Laura Schneider 2 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA Author

gsidley, good to debate with you again, too! :-)

In your last paragraph you say, "it would be silly to suggest cortisol causes stress"... [when the cause is clearly something else]. I think the point of the article, and the one I'm making, is that sometimes there IS no "something else" that's causing the "cortisol" (symptoms) to arise. In that case--perhaps even in any case--lowering the cortisol might alleviate the symptoms, regardless of the cause come to think of it. It's like saying, we won't fight a forest fire that was caused by a lightning strike because that's a natural occurrence, whereas we will fight one caused by a careless cigarette smoker. The question being not 'what caused it' so much as 'how to fix it'. I realize I'm going a bit off in the weeds here, but hopefully you see why this analogy fits the cortisol-stress connection, which may well in turn also fit the modern approach to fighting mental illness: if the person exhibits certain symptoms, then perhaps making those symptoms go away will make the problem go away--or at least let the person feel less horrible until they do find the "real" problems, be they nature or nurture. But, in some people, I truly believe there is a primarily biological reason for their mental illness, like babies with clinical depression who refuse to eat or toddlers with mental illness: patients too young for nurture to have played a significant role in causing their mental illnesses. And, since mental illnesses don't appear to be communicable to others except through genetic relationship (not a virus or germ, in other words), and since it's very easy to weed out whether traumatic life experiences have occurred, then the genetic/biological connection seems irrefutable and obvious in those cases. (Keep in mind I'm talking about serious clinical depression, not just naturally feeling down sometimes or having the blues because your pet died or whatever--everyone experiences that kind of non-clinical "depression", more properly labeled "sadness".) What else but biology, not life experiences, would cause mental illness in babies and the very young (which is well-documented)? And, wouldn't looking for a biological solution be the most logical thing to do after life experiences has been weeded out as NOT being the cause of a particular mental illness in an individual? After all, we treat people with poor eyesight by providing glasses or eye surgery to correct their vision, which they were born with/grew into. To not seek biological as well as situational causes for mental illness would be inhumane, considering that so many don't respond to the drugs currently available: different drugs, surgery, alternative treatments need to be researched to help this population of non-drug-responders (treatment-resistant depression, for example).

Your points about correlation and causation are very good ones, though, and I agree with you on them: after all, if we "cured" every elderly person by coloring away their gray hair, obviously they would not be "cured" (pardon my phrasing, everyone) of being elderly. Ditto with wrinkles. Gray hair and wrinkles have a high degree of correlation with the elderly, yet they almost certainly didn't CAUSE the person to be elderly.

Also, I agree that in many cases environment plays a huge role in illnesses, mental or otherwise. I just disagree that environment is ALWAYS part of that equation, proven by the number of babies and children with mental illness. There are plenty of studies that show that the poor environment/life situations came AFTER the mental illness took hold, too. For example, someone attempting to treat depression and, in the process, becoming a homeless alcoholic. Discounting all of these "nurture" studies as false, including well-designed ones that were not done by drug/supplement companies, would be statistically unscientific and inappropriate. Also, if "nurture" were the only cause of mental illness, with no biological component, then why don't all returning Veterans and former concentration camp prisoners have mental illnesses? Obviously a number of them do (since their extreme situations triggered the biological component that pushed them over the edge into illness), but not all or even close to all of them do (sorry, I don't have numbers/percents at hand to quote). There must be a biological component triggering illness in some people and not others in equally stressful/traumatic life situations, otherwise almost every single war veteran, concentration camp victim, rape victim, abuse survivor, etc. would have mental illness: which isn't the case. And it's not because some people are "weaker" than others (I'll let the Marines and Navy Seals and other war heroes with PTSD speak up in their own defense here).

I did, however, chuckle at your statement that, "biological researchers" often tried to find a biological basis for disorders...this is, of course their job description and typically their passion--what they went to school for many years to learn how to do: to try to improve the lives of the sick of this world, if not cure them altogether.

I'll leave you with this curious article that blurs the line between reality, fantasy, and biology, though I heard years ago that the whole "life flashing before your eyes" near-death experience had been chemically recreated in a human laboratory subject: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/peace-of...


gsidley profile image

gsidley 2 years ago from Lancashire, England

Hi Laura – it’s me again!

A few points in response to your comments:

1. I’ve no problem with the idea of taking medication to ‘fire-fight’. That’s what psychotropic drugs do. But let’s be open and transparent about it. Drugs aren’t rectifying underlying pathology (chemical imbalances in the brain, for example). Psychotropic drugs induce an abnormal state in the brain; they don’t reverse any underlying disorder. In other words, we need to be honest about what we mean by trying to ‘fix it’ – to use your analogy, we’re not doing anything about the recurrent lightning or the people that continually cause the fires by repeatedly throwing their lighted cigs away as all we are doing is trying to quench the flames. Quenching flames may, of course, be entirely sensible and helpful. Just like having a couple of stiff drinks before entering a social situation that one finds intimidating. Or taking a valium/diazepam tablet to cope with fear of flying. I’ve no problem with this type of fire-fighting and would defend anyone’s right to do so in the same way as I would defend a person’s right to take antidepressants.

Regrettably, the ‘modern approach’ to fighting mental illness is characterized by psychiatrists clinging to the idea that their drugs are rectifying pathology (underlying chemical imbalances) – like insulin and diabetes. What their drugs (antidepressants, antipsychotics) actually do is produce an abnormal/drug-induced state. Of course, this drug induced state might be welcome and justified in some circumstances (e.g. tranquillising someone in torment) but let’s be honest about it rather than preaching fantasies of cures. Of course, psychiatrists (and their drug-company sponsors) have a huge amount to lose from such honesty so they continue to peddle their ‘underlying illness’ myths despite an ever-increasing amount of scientific evidence to refute it.

2. And don’t get me started about childhood mental illness! There are troubled kids, distressed kids, kids with challenging behaviour, autistic spectrum kids. There are also kids with learning difficulties (where there is brain pathology that shows up on X-rays/scans). But there is no evidence for biologically-caused mental illnesses in children.

The drugging of toddlers and children under the guise of treating fabricated disorders such as ‘pediatric bipolar disorder’ must constitute one of the most scandalous practices in the modern (so-called civilized) world. Babies with clinical depression? – give me a break! It is testimony of the power of the pharmaceutical industry and corrupt psychiatrists - for example, psychiatrist Joseph Biederman at the Harvard Medical School who in 2008, under persistent questioning from Republican senator Charles Grassley, belatedly admitted failure to declare earnings of $1.6 million (underestimate) dollars in ‘consultancy fees’ from drug companies who stood to make huge profits from the drugging of children with fictitious mental illnesses.

3. People do not get mentally disturbed without life experiences. Genetics will make some people more reactive than average (for example, more prone to be outgoing, more prone to be intelligent, more prone to react) but will not play a prominent role for the so-called mental illness. Recent studies for psychosis estimate no more than 25% genetic contribution; for depression, it is likely to be notably less.

4. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body respond to stress and therefore reducing it would be counterproductive. I think this again highlights that just because a biochemical correlates with a severity of anxiety/depression/psychosis doesn’t mean it’s causing the mental health problem.

I could go on, but I suspect you’ve heard more than enough from me!

Best wishes

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