Stress and Depression

It seems that whenever I mention mental health disorders to people, the majority of them tend to think of severe cases such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Autism or ADHD/ADD. All these disorders have something in common; they tend to be genetic disorders since and recent studies have shown they are associated with genetic variation at four chromosomal sites. This highlights a big problem in the perception of mental health because it shows how many people do not think of some mental heath conditions such as depression or anxiety as diseases, rather they see them as a state of mind and thus more of a personal problem. This leads to people who are suffering from the disease to feel shame or weak-minded for having this condition.

The stigma associated with these disorders prevents some individuals from speaking up about suffering with them and seeking medical help. One reason why people do not think of certain mental illnesses as diseases is because of the negative connotation associated with the word which makes us think of diseases as being severe physical illnesses like diabetes, AIDS, or cancer.

A disease as defined by some medical dictionaries is:

a particular abnormal condition, a disorder of a structure or function, that affects part or all of an organism

According to this definition, depression is a disease because it is a disorder of the brain that affects the way people think and interact in the world. Acknowledging depression or anxiety as diseases is crucial because it helps remove some of the stigma associated with the conditions and it emphasizes the importance of seeking medical treatment. Anyone who suffers from a disease like cancer or AIDS will never go untreated so it shouldn’t be the case that many people with depression and anxiety do not seek treatment. I am focusing on depression and anxiety because the two are closely related and statistics show that nearly half of the people who are diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety. I also want to emphasize that stress plays a huge role in the development of depression and this is why finding positive ways of coping with stress is crucial.

Animal studies have been done on mice showing that prolonged stress can lead to depressive like symptoms. One study that was very cleverly designed by scientists at Ewha Woman’s University in Korea, involved inducing stress in mice by restraining them for different periods of time over two weeks. Results showed that at the end of the experiment mice that had been restrained for at least 2 hours a day for 14 days showed signs of depressive symptoms. These signs included a lack of searching for food/eating, and decreased sociability when introduced to unfamiliar mice. However mice that were treated with clinical anti-depressants showed reversed symptoms.

Ultimately, stress-related mental disorders such as depression and anxiety can be treated and this is why it is important to encourage individuals who may be suffering with these mental illnesses to get medical help because it can help their situation and prevent more serious problems.

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