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  November 18, 2002

Depression - Part 1

According to various sources I have read, symptoms of serious depression affect approximately 10% of the population of the western world. That's one in every ten people.

In a major study, "The Global Burden of Disease" (1996, Christopher J. L. Murray and Alan D. Lopez), the World Health Organization attempted to classify the major worldwide causes of death and disability. Table 5.4, page 270, lists the top ten causes:

1. Unipolar major depression (single mood)
2. Tuberculosis
3. Road traffic accidents
4. Alcohol use
5. Self-inflicted injuries
6. Bipolar affective disorder (alternating mood)
7. War
8. Violence
9. Schizophrenia
10. Iron-deficiency anemia

War was only number seven. Depression was at the top of the list! This is a fact we cannot ignore.

The drug companies are certainly not ignoring it. They are taking a multi-billion-dollar ride on the backs of those who suffer. Though antidepressant medications sometimes seem to be helpful in the short term, like any drug, they do not exist without drawbacks. These drawbacks are not "side effects," they are part of the drug's effects. Whether sexual impotence, increased sweating, blurred vision, constipation, sleepiness, nausea, tremor, dry mouth, lack of strength, headache, weight loss or gain, dizziness, or restlessness, these are the effects that the drugs have on some people, along with a possible lifting of depressive mood. The fact that these undesirable effects occur means that the drugs are altering other bodily functions in ways that science is yet unaware of.

What causes depression? How do antidepressants work? Science does not know. Studies have shown that people suffering from depression have low levels of the neurohormone serotonin. Under the assumption that higher levels would be helpful, a class of drugs called Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) has been created to leave a higher level of serotonin in the system. That's it. Modern Science, which boasts itself as the epitome of proof and precision, is often not very precise.

One of the problems is the label itself. What is depression? For some it's an overwhelming sadness, for others it's a flat despondency. Some people feel agitated, while others feel sluggish. The list of diagnostic descriptions is complex - depressed mood, loss of interest, irritability, appetite disturbance, abnormal agitation, abnormal fatigue, abnormal self-reproach, inappropriate guilt, poor concentration, indecisiveness, and morbid thoughts of death or suicide.

I was once in a room with people diagnosed with the same label - depression - and their descriptions of their symptoms were very different. How can one assumption about neurotransmitters work for something so varied? It doesn't. I have come to the conclusion that "depression" is a catch-all label for a malaise that mainstream science, medicine, and psychology doesn't understand. And when an instant-fix culture is in doubt, it pops a pill.

How can you correct a problem if you don't know the cause? And why don't scientists know the cause? One reason is that they don't look in the right places and ask the right questions. Every single depressed person I've met has one thing in common - they aren't happy. And when I ask more questions about their life, I always - always - discover why.

There is not a single person with emotional problems that I've met who had a childhood free from some form of neglect and/or abuse. Not one. And I'm willing to bet that's true for the other few billion troubled humans on this planet as well. People often say to me, "I don't understand why I am so messed up. My life was normal. I had a 'good enough' childhood." 'Good enough' by whose standards? The standards of modern "civilized" society?

What is "good enough"? If a plant is withered, would the tiny pot, dry soil, and shaded room it is in be "good enough"? If a billion other plants were in the same conditions, would the normality of those conditions make them good enough?

No. Good enough is not a relative thing when it comes to growth and development. Plants need a certain amount of water (within a limited range) and anything less is never good enough no matter how "normal" it might be. Human children have certain natural needs, and giving them anything less is never good enough. Less simply creates pain and injury.

The question is, then, "What are the natural needs of children?" In the November 11, 2002, Thought of the Week "The Key to Human Health," I state:

If we want to know what the true nature of a cypress tree is, we don't look at the potted bonsai version, we go to a swamp. If we want to know what the true nature of a monkey is, we do not go to the circus, the zoo, or the laboratory, we go to the jungle. A wild animal in its natural habitat will present the information we need to know.

Therefore, to know the true nature of a human, we have to encounter wild humans in their own habitat, the way they've lived for hundreds of thousands of years.

In that article, I present what a natural childhood looks like. That picture, which resides deep inside each one of us, is the tool by which we can measure our health and our illness. Without it we don't know what is too much and what is too little. We are like fish who have always lived in dirty water and don't know why we are sick because everything looks the way it always has. We feel bad, we look for a solution, but we don't know what we are looking for.

It's like a doctor looking at an x-ray. The doctor has a mental picture of a healthy bone and compares the x-ray image to that. If the doctor doesn't know what a healthy bone looks like, he or she won't recognize a fracture as an illness. Unfortunately, most doctors know bones better than feelings. They have not learned what an emotionally healthy life looks like, because, like the sick fish, they grew up in the unfeeling "water" of this society.

As a Primal Integration therapist, I know feelings better than bones. I carry the picture of natural, healthy human life in my body and in my mind. When a client tells me his story, I compare his history to that picture, just like the doctor compares the x-ray. And like the doctor who sees the fracture, I see the cracks in my client's childhood.

When we investigate in this way, depression is no longer a mystery. It's all there in the personal history, and all here - right now - in the troublesome feelings from which we want to escape. Although early pain may have caused the chemical imbalance we now have, it is often reversible. Although we may be genetically predisposed to depression, the condition can be deactivated when we relieve the inner stress of repressed feelings.

Depression is the number one worldwide cause of death and disability, and the incidence of the illness seems to be getting worse. Thousands of scientists are feverishly working on research that looks in the wrong places. Billions of dollars are being spent on drugs that mask the symptoms and therefore hide the tracks and the clues. It's time that the focus is shifted to the real causes.

We are human animals, and we have all been children. All we have to do is look at that and feel.

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