Dion's random ramblings

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Depression - at what age are you most prone to depression?

This is a very interesting discovery. The research conducted in this study found that we are most prone to depression at the age of 44. I am fairly certain that this would vary by a few years depending on one's context (i.e., whether you live in the first world, the global South etc.) But, it would seem to make sense.

I did some research on depression as part of my graduate work (more brain stuff!) and found that the causes of depression are varied and sophisticated. Generally, however, there are two sources that trigger depression:

1. Exogenous sources of depression - These are things that come from outside of one's self. A classic example of this depression is the kind of 'blues' that one feels after a significant loss (e.g., the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a move to a new town etc.) In its simplest form this kind of depression usually lasts a fairly short while (anywhere from a few days to around two or three weeks). It is possible to deal with this kind of depression through either changing the social environment that is causing it (i.e., taking a person to a place where they feel better, or exposing them to happy memories, offering hope for a changed future etc.), or helping the person to gain a new perspective on their current reality that helps them to transcend it. This is often what happens in counseling, support groups, and some forms of psychotherapy.

2. Endogenous causes of depression - this type of depression is much more subtle and can have longer lasting effects. This is the kind of depression that comes about as a result of a change in the body's chemistry. There is either a deficiency of certain chemicals (e.g., endorphins) or an abundance of others (e.g., melatonin). These chemicals either surpress or alter the brain's regular functioning which causes the feeling of depression, or they hinder the conductivity of the neural connections in the brain which also create problems in regular neurological functioning. Both instances are serious. Sadly, no amount of social intervention or psychotherapy can adequately resolve this type of depression. Whilst support may offer short term relief, a greater capacity to cope or gain meaning, the depression will ultimately return since it is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Currently the only effective solution is an intervention that will recreate the chemical balance (this is most effectively done through the careful use of medication, or through stimulating the endocrine system of the body to recreate that balance itself). In general I am always cautious about the use of drugs. However, there are clearly some situations where persons are in dire need of such intervention to find both relief and healing.

Like most people I have suffered from 'the blues' from time to time in my life. And, in my 17 years in the ministry I have journeyed with many, many people who struggle with depression. This has been a great honour! I am always amazed at how reluctant people are to admit that they're struggling and need either help or support. I think it would be fair to say that everyone is going to suffer from depression, to some extent or another, during their lifetime.

The one thing that I have seen, and experienced personally, is that the three traditional systems of being (body, mind, and spirit) have a knock on effect on each other. If you are not well in your body it will certainly have an effect on your mind, and your spiritual life. The converse is also true, a healthy spiritual life, and engaged mind, and a healthy body will all help to keep balance, perspective and a better quality of life. Sadly, our society has so neglected the spiritual element of our being that very often when we are faced with struggles that we should be able to deal with spiritually (death, loss, disappointment, confusion, loss of hope, existential questions, questions of meaning etc.) we are ill equipped to do so, and so we feel helpless, inadequate, and increase our sense of struggle. A healthy spiritual life is as important as a healthy body and mind.

So, it is best to set in place a lifestyle that will make one less prone to depression. However, be prepared for depression (it is a normal part of most people's lives), understand it, and find the support and help that can restore your life to its normal cycle.

Well, here's the story about the research that suggested that we are most prone to depression at the age of 44. It seems to make sense when one thinks of the major changes in the body (particularly among women) at that stage of life, and the change in life attitude and expectation among men.

Social Science & Medicine is publishing a study by the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College that found that the risk of becoming depressed peaks at age 44. The study used data from two million people in 80 countries.
Professor Oswald said for the average person, the dip in mental health and happiness comes on slowly, not suddenly in a single year.

Only in their 50s do most people emerge from the low period.

"But encouragingly, by the time you are 70, if you are still physically fit then on average you are as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year-old.

Link (Via Mind Hacks)

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