Is Depression Really As Common As We Think?

Is depression really as common as we think? Or is it mostly socially constructed right now to serve those who are all struggling with similar economic, financial, occupational, spiritual, or whatever have you, life crisis’s?

It is a question some might be offended that I ask but it needs to be addressed. The word has been thrown around for a decade now. Laura Pratt stated “eleven percent of Americans aged 12 years and over take antidepressant medication (Pratt, 2011).” That was in 2011, can you imagine the number now? Do all these people really need medication for a physiological imbalance?

Some may argue depression is strictly environmental and psychological. They may say it has no physiological component, but I have to disagree. At Fudan University in China, researchers conducted a study on depression using MRI imaging on patients, and discovered the orbitofrontal cortex reacted differently when it came with reward mechanisms of normal patients (Sandle, 2016). When a person is not given a reward, this reacts, but in those with depression it seems this is a constant reacting mechanism, even in situations where it is not appropriate. “Specifically, activity in the lateral orbitofrontal cortex is found when subjects reach expectations about punishment and social reprisal (Sandle, 2016).” The area appears to be physically changed. Can psychological states change physicality? Or do physiological states induce psychological stresses?

I personally believe the answer is both. This is why depression is so difficult to treat. In a patient experiencing depression with little stress in life, having a genetic history, an inability to really explain why they are depressed, are all signs a closer look should be given. MRI imaging will hopefully pave the way to distinguish between types of depression. Those who have a physiological issue, might need medication and therapy. Those with a sort of socially constructed depression could benefit from just going to a psychologist, practicing good eating habits, exercising, and/or meditation.

If whatever gives us rewards, let us say, self assurance as well is essentially damaged, is there a way to reconstruct the pathways? If medication improves some, then it proves to be possible. If therapy helps, it proves to be possible. Some are living testimonies of this and credit research and doctors with saving their life from potential suicide. I believe each person’s brain has experienced stress at different stages of development, therefore pathways are constructed uniquely and need a detailed response. In order to find a solution I believe a person needs to first ask themselves why all the sadness? Has it always been there in the background since childhood? Or has it come on recently? When and what was going on during that period of time when symptoms started? What stage of development was hindered?

I have a theory that when people are young, their developing brains can only handle so much stress. Stress has a physical component and a psychological. I believe the brain is capable of whatever it has the capacity to accomplish under stress. You ever see the children who can play Bach at age ten? They usually had support at home, lessons, could focus, and had little stress at home. Children who are raised around stress, in impoverished conditions are less likely to access certain experiences in society due to the cost of them. They suffer physical and psychological stress at a young age. This could have a more lasting impact I would say on this child, rather than an adult who suffers little trauma in childhood and is experiencing depression. Gabor Mate stated:

“CT scan studies at the University of Wisconsin showed that brain centers responsible   for academic performance were up to 10 percent smaller in children who grew up in the poorest homes. Why? Because the human brain itself is a social organ, shaped in its neurophysiological and neurochemical development by the child’s relationships (Mate, 2015).”

If CT scans are showing differences in brain structure in those with better academic performances, then stress on development is crucial  to understand for ensuring a productive society. And also, maybe less cases of depression are caused by an irreversible physiological change which could give hope to those who need less invasive treatments. This could reserve medication for those who really do need it.

Erik Erikson, a pioneer in the field of psychology believes in eight stages of development, and “during each stage, the person experiences a psychosocial crisis which could have a positive or negative outcome for personality development (McLeod, 2008).” Unlike Freud, Erikson’s attention was focused upon social constructs, culture, and environmental factors affecting the ego. Freud emphasized more on a conflict arising between the id (primitive part of the brain) and the super ego which has more to do with adapting a moral conscience. This raises the question in most minds, who is right? I personally feel the answer depends on the patient. I believe Erikson’s crisis seems to come from crucial stages of development in youth, deep-rooted in memories, senses, our physical neurological pathways thus causing physiological changes. I believe Freud’s crisis is rooted in the later development stages, comes on because of social constructs revolving around morals and defining self worth in relation to them. Thus, medication will not treat this sort of existential crisis. Human (therapist) and animal companionship have shown to improve these types of depression. Exercise, healthy eating habits, healthy sleeping schedules, cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, and establishing goals might be a solution.

In the future, I hope medical imaging technology combined with doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and neuroscientists can all work together to provide the correct treat option for those suffering with depression or any mental illness. Compared to one hundred years ago, there is vast knowledge about the human brain and I am intrigued to see where research takes us.


Works Cited


Sandle, T. (2016, December 11). Physical source of depression identified. Retrieved January 06, 2017, from

Mate, Gabor. Posted Nov 16, 2015, G. (2015, November 16). Gabor Maté: How to Build a Culture of Good Health. Retrieved January 06, 2017, from

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