Depression is a profound problem in America and worldwide. The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimate that 6.6% of Americans suffer from depression. Worldwide, as many as 350 million people are affected.
At the May 2016 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, outgoing president, Dr Renee Binder, emphasized the importance of decreasing the stigma of depression and mental illness.3 Depression is more than “having a bad day” or “feeling blue.” It is a long-lasting experience of low mood, loss of enjoyment in life, loss of interest, low energy, changes in sleep and/or appetite, and a decrease in one’s ability to think clearly (cognition). Often, family and friends cannot appreciate the depth of pain and suffering that depression can cause. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “Get over it,” are familiar phrases. Sentiments like this stigmatize depression and imply that it is a choice, rather than a biological disease.
Neuroscience and neuroimaging have revealed much to provide evidence that depression is a biological disease. Indeed, depression is not just one thing, despite the efforts of mainstream psychiatry to classify it into a single illness category. Nassir Ghaemi, MD, noted expert on psychopharmacology recently wrote:
“Psychiatry…practice(s) non-scientifically; we use hundreds of made-up labels for professional purposes, without really getting at the reality of what is wrong with the patient…We have a huge amount of neurobiology research now to conclude that the 20th century neurotransmitter theories of psychopharmacology basically are false. The dopamine and monoamine (serotonin) hypotheses of schizophrenia and depression are wrong…we now know that drugs have major second messenger effects which (cause) neuroplastic changes in the brain, including connections between neurons. The brain is literally re-sculpted.”
Neuroimaging studies have shown several neurophysiological substrates for depression. Functional brain scans, such as SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) or PET (positron emission tomography) have shown that while patients may present with the same symptoms of depression, they can have very different processes occurring in their brains.