Thursday, November 19, 2009


It is one more of the ostentatious gala functions of a jet set Swami who claims to possess the secret key for happiness. The pompous guru mumbled some mantra, loyal assistants furiously clapped and basketfuls of flowers were strewn all around him. Matching with the scene, the background music reached a tumultuous crescendo. The Swami obviously mastered the history, geography, science, linguistics and what-not of living happily. With condescending looks he began the sermon. He exhorted people to play-act thumping hay, pounding rice, grinding pulses and washing clothes. Dukhiram was one of over a hundred thousand who attended, every one trying to steal a slice of happiness from the Swami. Dukhi, however, returned home disappointed.

Dukhi has been on antidepressants for some time. Neurologists shifted him from simple tranquilizers to more impressive sounding 'serotonin re-uptake inhibitors'. Dukhi has a cushy job with handsome emoluments and all the perks that a modern society can offer - air-conditioned house, chauffeur-driven cars and latest gadgets that operate by a remote switch for all and sundry household chores you can name. He doesn’t have to exert nor strain the body for anything. There is no obvious reason for his unhappiness or depression.

The problem is we human beings seem to come with two-in-one personalities. Philosophers interpreted this in the east and west in their own style. Vyasa said that the ‘mind’ was irrepressible for ‘us’ like wind. Buddha compared our mind to an uncontrollable elephant. St. Paul said that the Spirit and the flesh were perpetually opposed to one another. Freud took this dualistic approach a step further. He designed a psychoanalytical system to strengthen ‘us’ (conscious self) to take control of the id (basic instincts). Psychologist Dr. Haidt compared ‘us’ to a meek rider sitting on a mighty elephant called mind.

Strictly speaking, we do not come with two (as many suppose) or three (as Freud hypothesized) or four (as ancient Indian scriptures said) parts of mind. It is all one mind, one brain and one purpose. Mind is simply what the brain does and its purpose is to protect the organism (you). The brain has been developing, learning its tricks of trade through evolution over several hundreds of millions of years. Like a renovated house with more rooms added upstairs utilizing same old type of building material, brain too has grown adding new layers over the pre-existing structure using the same old neurons.

The older part of the brain structure, however, perfected the art of living for the moment on a ‘here and now’ basis. It learnt to work on autopilot in preserving and protecting the organism without the need for ‘our’ conscious intervention. After all it comes with time-tested proof of its worth through millions of years of evolution and so we and other animals continue with it. Our brain suited us particularly well in our primitive living conditions in caves or in the wilderness where we never knew to which beast we could have possibly become dinner the next moment.

Group living, tool usage, agriculture, trade and allied skills gradually contributed over time for our greater security. These changes helped the new layers in our brain to develop confidence in ‘planning for future’ instead of ‘living for the moment’. A language module too coevolved in the brain. But the new modules vested with higher cognitive abilities have not yet had enough time in evolution to be perfected in their functioning. Consequently, the lower brain layers still continue to work for our protection. Because of this, an apparent clash of interests takes place between these two modules – the conscious ‘us’ with our plans, social niceties and etiquettes and the old proven devil working on autopilot. We find the base animalistic pulls of the old brain antagonistic and some times embarrassing in today’s secure environment where we do not have to struggle as much for food or mate. However, as Noble laureate Prof. Kandel said almost ninety percent of our functions are even now taken care of by the old brain without our conscious thinking or intervention.

When the body works hard for its needs – whether obtaining food (for sustenance) or sex (for procreation), the old brain rewards with a squirt of dopamine spray, a neurotransmitter. The spray produces a ‘feeling of happiness’. It is this ‘feel good’ mechanism that primes the organism to act. When the body gets all its requirements fulfilled without any exertion, this spray of dopamine doesn’t kick in. Consequently, the body feels unrewarded, bored and therefore unhappy. Continuous unhappiness depletes another neurotransmitter called serotonin and we begin to feel depressed. To avoid this trap it is necessary to make the body work for its needs and let it feel ‘Ha, I-earned-my-reward!’

It so happened that Dukhiram’s office arranged a retreat for their staff in a remote jungle far away from phones, conveyances or packed fast foods. No electric power, nor time-pieces. Participants had to depend on the sun for time, gather firewood, cook their meal and spend the day in hard labor while keeping the ‘planning, language etc. modules’ of the brain busily occupied with a constant vigil on issues of safety. At the end of the day, the body had earned its ‘reward.’ It slept soundly and was fully refreshed to face the challenges next morning. Dukhiram was so happy during the fifteen days of the camp-life that he resolved to give up a whole lot of his modern gadgetry at home. He decided to let his body do that little bit of extra work and earn its brownies. He also learnt that Psychologist Dr. Bargh discovered that even subliminally suggestive words like sad, sorrow, old etc. can impact our attitudes without our conscious knowledge. So Dukhi (sad) changed his name too fittingly to Santosh (happy).

Dr. S. Ilardi, author of “The Depression Cure” published in June 2009 says: “As a species, humans were never designed for the pace of modern life. We're designed for a different time — a time when people were physically active, when they were outside in the sun for most of the day, when they had extensive social connections and enjoyed continual face time with their friends and loved ones, when they experienced very little social isolation, when they had a much different diet, when they got considerably more sleep and when they had much less in the way of a relentless, demanding, stress-filled existence.” It was also found by anthropologist, Dr. E. Schieffelin “that the Kaluli people of the New Guinea highlands — whose day-to-day existence of foraging and gardening is akin to that of our remote ancestors — are almost completely free of depressive illness.”

Prof. Y. Shoenfeld believes “that depression has biological roots and may be an immune system response to certain physiological cues.” He finds that certain aromas are effective in relieving depression. Dr. J.S. Gordon says in his book “Unstuck” that depression isn't really a disease, but “a life out of balance.” He advises a change in life-style with adequate exercise, nutritional supplements and self-help strategies. Antidepressants should be the last resort according to him.

Added on 20 July 2011:
"We found that the more these drugs affect serotonin and other neurotransmitters in your brain -- and that's what they're supposed to do -- the greater your risk of relapse once you stop taking them. All these drugs do reduce symptoms, probably to some degree, in the short-term. Our meta-analysis suggests that when you try to go off the drugs, depression will bounce back. This can leave people stuck in a cycle where they need to keep taking anti-depressants to prevent a return of symptoms. Depression may actually be a natural and beneficial -- though painful - state in which the brain is working to cope with stress.. Longitudinal studies cited in the paper show that more than 40 per cent of the population may experience major depression at some point in their lives."

Added on 09 Aug 2011:
"Making music might help lift more depressed people out of the dumps than common antidepressant medications do, the results of a new study suggest. Music is known to have a strong effect on the human psyche. Learning to play an instrument boosts the brain's auditory ability and even makes it easier to learn foreign languages, studies show. Music can also trigger memories by activating the medial prefrontal cortex, which sits in the brain just behind the forehead. This region is one of the last areas of the brain to atrophy during Alzheimer's, explaining why many Alzheimer's patients can recall songs from the distant past.
These emotional and communicative effects may explain the mood-boosted effect found in the new study."
From: Click

Added on 07 Jan 2012: Low vitamin D levels linked to depression:
"Low levels of vitamin D already are associated with a cavalcade of health woes from cardiovascular diseases to neurological ailments. Higher vitamin D levels were associated with a significantly decreased risk of current depression, particularly among people with a prior history of depression. Low vitamin D levels were associated with depressive symptoms, particularly those with a history of depression."

Added on 2 Mar 2012: Depression could be evolutionary byproduct:
"Infection was the major cause of death in humans' early history, so surviving infection was a key determinant in whether someone was able to pass on his or her genes. The authors propose that evolution and genetics have bound together depressive symptoms and physiological responses that were selected on the basis of reducing mortality from infection. Fever, fatigue/inactivity, social avoidance and anorexia can all be seen as adaptive behaviors in light of the need to contain infection."

Added on 26 Apr 2012: A few days steeped in nature boosts creativity, insight and problem solving:
"We’ve got information coming at us from social media, electronics and cell phones. We constantly shift attention from one source to another, getting all of this information that simulates alarms, warnings and emergencies. Those threats are bad for us. They sap our resources to do the fun thinking and cognition humans are capable of. Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax and let down those threat responses. Therefore, we have resources left over — to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem solve — that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others.There’s growing advantage over time to being in nature."

Added on 15 May 2012:
A walk in the park gives mental boost to people with depression:
"Our study showed that participants with clinical depression demonstrated improved memory performance after a walk in nature, compared to a walk in a busy urban environment."

Added on 16 Jun 2012:
Socialising helps to alleviate symptoms of depression:
""Simply going out for a coffee or chatting to a friend can reduce the symptoms of depression experienced by people with mental health problems. Increased social interaction helps sufferers to rebuild their self-esteem which in turn enables them to maintain and develop positive relationships and friendships."\htm

Added on 01 Jul 2012:
Why Stress Makes You Miserable:
"Stress really does mess with your mind. A new study has found that chronic stress can create many of the brain changes associated with mood disorders by blocking a gene called neuritin—and that boosting the gene's activity can protect the brain from those disorders."

Added on 31 Aug 2012:
Depression Linked with Hyperconnected Brain Areas:
"Scientists found that the limbic and cortical areas, which together produce and process our emotions, sent a barrage of neural messages back and forth to one another—much more than in the brains of healthy patients. These signals can amplify depressed people's negative thoughts and act like white noise, drowning out the other neural messages telling them to move on.”\_id=SA_CAT_MB_20120829

Added on 06 Oct 2012: 
The Evolutionary Advantage of Depression:
"Increasingly, researchers are identifying how genes contribute to depression. As we learn more about the human genome, scientists are finding evidence that while depression seems incredibly maladaptive, it was actually adaptive (helpful) to our ancestors. Some of the alleles (forms of genes) that increase one's risk for depression also enhance immune responses to infections. Depressive symptoms are inextricably intertwined with -- and generated by -- physiological responses to infection that, on average, have been selected as a result of reducing infectious mortality across mammalian evolution. While immune-modulating therapies may be effective in treating some cases of depression, these therapies may not be effective against all types of depression."

Added on 06 Nov 2012:
ANGST - Origins of Anxiety and Depression by Jeffrey P. Kahn, OUP, 2012, pp: 312
"Basically, we are built to be sheep, but for some reason prefer to be human. The downside of this is that our sheepish instincts complain in the form of Anxiety and Depressive Angst. ANGST provides a reasoned and entertaining new framework for understanding our knowledge of psychiatric neuroscience, clinical research, diagnosis and treatment. Ranging from Darwin and Freud to the most cutting-edge medical and scientific findings—drawing from ancient writings, modern humor and popular lyrics, and with many amusing cartoons— ANGST offers us an exciting new slant on some of the most pervasive mental health issues of our time."
Sourced from:

Added on 27 Nov 2012:  Lack of nutrients and Depression:
"A low intake of folate and vitamin B12 increases the risk of melancholic depressive symptoms, according to a study among nearly 3,000 middle-aged and elderly Finnish subjects. On the other hand, non-melancholic depressive symptoms are associated with an increased risk for the metabolic syndrome. Based on these new observations, melancholic and non-melancholic depression may be separate depressive subtypes with different etiologies in terms of proinflammation and diet. Melancholic depression involves typical depressive symptoms, such as a depressed mood. Non-melancholic depression is characterized by other types of symptoms, such as low self-esteem and feelings of worry and anxiety."

Added on 07 Dec 2012:  Pathway leading to depression:
"Scientists have identified the key molecular pathway leading to depression, revealing potential new targets for drug discovery. The study reveals that the 'Hedgehog pathway' regulates how stress hormones, usually elevated during depression, reduce the number of brain cells. The severity of symptoms can range from feelings of sadness and hopelessness to, in the most severe cases, self-harm or suicide. Recent studies have demonstrated that depression is associated with a reduction in a brain process called 'neurogenesis'- the ability of the brain to produce new brain cells. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, are generally elevated in stress and depression. The researchers discovered that a specific signalling mechanism in the cell, the 'Hedgehog pathway', is responsible for damaging the production of new brain cells."

Added on 08 Dec 2012:  Drug fights hard-to-treat depression:
"A first-of-its-kind antidepressant drug discovered by a Northwestern University professor and now tested on adults who have failed other antidepressant therapies has been shown to alleviate symptoms within hours, have good safety and produce positive effects that last for about seven days from a single dose."

Added on 08 Dec 2012:  CBT proves effective at reducing depression:
"Studies done on 469 adults (aged 18 years) who had not responded to at least 6 weeks of treatment with an antidepressant from 73 general practices across the UK. Participants were randomised to either continue with usual care provided by their general practitioner, which included continuing on antidepressant medication (235 patients), or to receive CBT in addition to usual care (234 patients) and were followed up for 12 months. After 6 months, 46% of participants who received CBT in addition to usual care had improved (reporting at least a 50% reduction in depressive symptoms) compared to 22% of those who continued with treatment as usual."

Added on 13 Feb 2013: Most Common and Powerful Triggers of Depression: 
"Certain painful experiences are more likely to precede depressive episodes than others. And some forms of loss can trigger depression more quickly than previously realized. For people who are especially vulnerable to depression, even mild stress or a minor loss can spark a depressive episode relatively quickly."

Added on 23 Feb 2013: Antidepressants alone are not enough:
"The latest studies have shown that antidepressants restore the capacity of certain areas of the brain to repair abnormal neural pathways. Recovery requires redirection of these pathways through practice, rehabilitation or therapy. Antidepressants reopen a window of brain plasticity, which allows the formation and adaptation of brain connections through the patient's own activities and observations, similarly to a young child whose brain and experiences about the world develop in response to environmental stimuli.When cerebral plasticity is reopened, problems caused by false connections in the brain can be addressed."

Added on 17May 2013: Body's clock (circadian rhythms) linked to depression:

 "The disruption of sleep and other bodily rhythms that often accompanies clinical depression may leave a mark on the brain. A study of gene activity in the brains of people who suffered from depression reveals that their daily clocks were probably out of whack. In mammals, daily rhythms such as sleep,hormone cycles and eating patterns are guided by a master clock in the brain whose rhythms are maintained in part by genes and patterns of light and darkness. The master clock can get out of sync with clocks elsewhere in the brain and body. This discord, for example, produces the out-of-sorts feeling of jet lag. People with depression also often have off-kilter body rhythms. But the molecular and cellular mechanisms behind these disrupted cycles have been hard to pin down."\_to_depression_

1 comment:

Unknown said...

One of the most profoundly applicable reads I've ever seen. Why is this wisdom not widely dispersed? It makes so much sense. Pharmaceuticals are corrosive to the body and spritit. Yet massively profitable to the makers and distributors (drug dealers is the term i believe)