According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States,” affecting approximately 16.1 million U.S. adults (18 or older).
Depression is more than just feeling down or sad, and I know people say that all the time, but I also don’t think people do it justice. Because the symptoms of depression are generally unchanging and learnable through Google, I won’t list them here. I will be focusing on the physiological effects of depression.
Physiological Side of Depression
I think the physiological part of mental illness is something people don’t think about or maybe they tell others they’re being hypochondriacs (going back to the “it’s all in your head” thing). In a way, it is “all in their head,” but I don’t mean psychologically.
Depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. According to this article, a depressed brain produces fewer neurotransmitters: such as, serotonin and norepinephrine. I explain what these two neurotransmitters do as I understand them – feel free to offer more information or an alternate definition.
- Serotonin – Neurotransmitter responsible for happiness and being awake/regulating sleep and other bodily functions.
- Norepinephrine – Neurotransmitter responsible for alertness and attention. It, essentially, motivates us to move.
With lower levels of these chemicals, depression feels like being weighed down or a physiological inability to move or get out of bed. I like to use the picture below to explain the physical side of depression.
I think I read this article about when it came out and thought it was a fascinating way to approach emotion. The colors show stimulation (the article also uses the term “activity”) of the area in conjunction with an emotion. The article and related study do not interpret the results so everything after this is my understanding.
Neutral shows no stimulation/activity, but depression shows negative stimulation/activity. As I understand it, this means our bodies literally shut down when we’re depressed. I think of it in comparison to the other emotions.
Happiness makes us want to jump around and move and anger makes us want to flail our arms around. So depression makes us want to do the opposite – lie down and avoid the world. I also like that there’s a difference between sadness and depression. Sadness is a weight in your chest, but there’s nothing there for depression.
I can’t say what depression is like for anyone. Everyone experiences everything differently. I do think society, as a whole, shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it or seek help. As someone who is very independent and hates asking for help, I can say it’s hard, but it is never a sign of weakness.
Feel free to comment with your stories, opinions, or advice as you are comfortable.