Living with Depression

Sophie is disinterested with all that surrounds her. She doesn’t want to go out with her friends. All she wants to do is sleep all day. Let’s face it, Sophie is sad.

By Delphine Caubet

Her doctor diagnoses her as depressed. This dynamic young woman, who in high school played sports, volunteered and went to every party, now sees the world in terms of shadowy darkness.

Depression is an insidious disease that is caused by several factors.

Biological Factors: A chemical imbalance inside the brain can cause it. Serotonin is the brain’s chemical messenger, called a neurotransmitter because messages are sent between the brain’s neurons. Serotonin influences our physiology, like sleep, as well as our psychology, like aggressiveness and hunger. When serotonin levels are low, depression, even suicidal depression, can be the result. Antidepressants help neurotransmitters send messages.

But brain chemistry is complex, just one factor among many. Studies show that depressed and suicidal patients secrete high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. In healthy patients, a stressful situation causes the body to secrete some cortisol, which puts us on alert. But too much cortisol can lead to us no longer going on alert and getting depressed. Antidepressants help regulate cortisol secretion.

Psychological Factors: Biology isn’t the only thing that causes depression. We are more than just a bunch of chemicals swimming around in our brains. If someone got mostly negative comments as a child, there’s a good chance they’ll grow up to be a negative, depressed adult.

For Sophie, there were key events that triggered her depression. After her mother died, Sophie lost her job.

Her doctor suggested a course of treatment. And it worked! Sophie felt a lot better after only two weeks. Her doctor had warned her to gradually stop the antidepressants rather than going off them cold turkey. But she stopped her course of treatment. She didn’t have to wait long to see a relapse.

To her surprise, her doctor then suggested that she take up a sport and… meditate! Sophie, a realist, couldn’t figure out how this would work.

She tried it anyway, several times a week: 30 minutes of running combined with 30 minutes of deep breathing. She followed instructions: do it at your own rhythm, focus on the present, feel your breathing and your muscles… and forget the outside world…

Feeling Better: After the first few sessions, which were hard for Sophie, each session was like a breath of fresh air. Her doctor told her that exercise and meditation reduce the symptoms of depression an average of 40%. Physical exercise increases the number of neurons in your brain. Learning and meditation help keep those neurons alive.

But meditation and exercise aren’t a magic formula. At least when Sophie practices the two, she stops obsessing over the events that led her to get depressed in the first place.  

First published in Reflet de Société magazine vol. 27, no.1, spring 2019, pages 12 – 13

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