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A while back a Spo-fan emailed me the question: “What causes depression?” I wrote a response; I decided to post it here for other’s edification.

We humans like simple ‘A causes B’ explanations. Unfortunately this approach seldom if ever properly explains anything. I won’t dwell on the cliché (albeit true) explanation depression arises from of a complex multi-factorial gunge ranging from genetics to what you are eating nowadays. Here is a simple enough (and hopefully accurate) explanation.

There are two main causes of depression:

The main one comes from the perception of loss: loss of status, resources, companionship, leverage or independence.

The other main cause of depression is from sickness. Chronic conditions, especially chronic pain, are greatly correlated with depression. Either the sickness leads to depression or an underlying factor (inflammation) creates the physical and mental conditions. Some say sickness is just another variation of loss viz. loss of health. Therefore the perception of loss is the main cause of depression.

Depression and loss are linked as the consequence of evolution. We evolved as social creatures. Being involved and connected helped us relatively naked and defenseless animals to stay alive – alive long enough to reproduce. We had to anxious battler fronts to win: beating the bugs and keeping in good standing with The Tribe. To lose connection with the latter meant you were ‘on your own’ and at risk of death.

Notice I wrote ‘perception’ of loss. Back in the bad-old days if you got infected or booted from society both usually led to death. The mind developed depression as if to say ‘You have inflammation! or You are on your own! You’re doomed! Shut down and die!” Nowadays we have treatments for infections and losing your group, job, or status doesn’t lead directly to death – but the body/brain still reacts the same.

Unless depression is purely a ‘brain disease” like a stroke, the treatment for depression involves mostly treating the body and the mind not the brain. The treatment depression addresses improving general health thorough regular exercise, good diet, and sleep to diminish stress hormones and general inflammation.  Connection to others is vital via social network and ‘talking about it’; avoid isolation which the mind sees as a death-kneel.  Improving autonomy and removing things that trap you (bad job, bad relationships etc.) help depression.  Talk therapy often looks at and challenges our negative thinking viz. the loss of a relationship, a job, etc. is not really ‘the end of the world’ as our monkey brains like to go to in a loss situation.

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