Depression rates are on the rise, and curiously, rates of anti-depression medication prescriptions are going up also. Either depression is not what we think it is, or drugs are not working. I suggest it is both.
What if depression is not what we think it is?
What if it’s not a chemical imbalance?
What if it is not hereditary or faulty genes?
What if it is not a medical problem at all?
What if it is not helped by dredging up the past looking for reasons?
What if we consider a mood scale that everyone of us is on, with happiness up one end, and sadness down the other; and what if depression was too far and for too long at the sad end of this mood scale? That would sure be a breakthrough.
Moods are emotions – and emotions are a preparation for action. What if there was emotion and no preparation – no action; no movement along that scale. One doesn’t have to be a rocket surgeon to work that out … notice that?
Did you realise that seriously depressed people would miss that (rocket scientist/brain surgeon) because the part of the brain that helps us notice things and sets us up to respond is not working. Called the ‘orientation response mechanism’, this vital mechanism directs our focus and triggers the motivating brain chemical called dopamine to prepare us for action.
Now, with action, the emotion is discharged, and mostly as a reward, a ‘feel-good’ brain chemical floods the brain and then is withdrawn to reward us next time we act in a purposeful way. With no action however, the emotion – the preparation for action – is not discharged, no feel-good reward comes, and we stay where we are on the mood scale, or if the emotion was prompted by a basic physical or emotional need, and the need remains unmet, chances are we move toward the sad end a bit more.
Of course, not all emotions can be acted out. They centre around basic drives like food, sex, love, and status, and in civilised society, we learn to inhibit inappropriate actions. Since 1997 with the first comprehensive explanation of why humans dream – or more specifically the function of REM sleep – we know that these undischarged emotions are discharged by the action being metaphorically completed, allowing us to wake refreshed.
Depressed people however, don’t wake refreshed. They dream a lot, and even after lots of sleep, they wake feeling exhausted, unable to focus, concentrate, or get motivated.
Understanding REM sleep tells us why – the orientation response mechanism used to process the undischarged emotions during the REM sleep phase is exhausted. While a healthy sleep cycle has about 20% REM sleep; depressed people go into REM earlier, stay there longer, and use up a lot of energy so that they wake tired. They wake tired because they missed out on the restorative sleep, but, worse than that, the mechanism that gets us going in the morning – helps us notice things, focus on what needs to be done, and motivates us toward purposeful action, does not work. They usually have another lousy day; emotions running high (although it doesn’t look like it); but no action, setting them up for another night of poor sleep as the overloaded system wades through a swamp of emotions that prepared us for action that didn’t take place. The dreadful cycle continues, they stay too far, and for too long at the sad end of the mood scale.
See this on YouTube: