Understanding Stress and Depression
Fri, December 3, 2021

Understanding Stress and Depression

Stress is considered to be one of the major factors that cause different physiological and psychological ailments. It can often affect the overall health of a person and severe stress can also develop to more serious mental disorders / Photo by: dolgachov via 123RF

 

Stress is considered to be one of the major factors that cause different physiological and psychological ailments. It can often affect the overall health of a person and severe stress can also develop to more serious mental disorders. However, not experiencing stress at all may also be bad for a person, as they will not be able to develop resiliency and have the ability to manage problems in their lives if they are not exposed to a certain amount of stress. 


The Relationship Between Stress and Depression 

According to Harvard University, it is often said by clinicians that depression is a result of multiple causes such as a chemical imbalance in the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and other medical problems. Researchers have learned that there are specific genes that can make people more vulnerable to low moods and influence a person on how they respond to drug therapy -- however, their understanding of the biology of depression is incomplete and more research needs to be done. 

Moreover, the advancement of technology has played a critical role in understanding the causes of depression. A more sophisticated form of brain imaging such as positron emission tomography, single-photon emission computed tomography, and functional magnetic resonance imaging can give us a closer look inside the brain and it can scan and map out brain activities that are critical for mood regulation and how it actually functions. 

In a previous study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, fMRI images of 24 female participants who had a history of depression have shown that on average, the hippocampus was 9% to 13% smaller in depressed women compared to the women who were not depressed. Women were chosen for the study because they are slightly more susceptible to becoming depressed. In 2017 data, it shows that there are 161 million women and 102 million men reportedly depressed individuals around the world. 

The researchers suggested that stress can suppress the production of new neurons or nerve cells in the hippocampus that prevents it to grow in its regular size. The production of new neurons in the brain and its ability to form new connections can improve and regulate mood. The growth and enhanced branching of neurons in the hippocampus are important in a person’s mental health. Hence, they have identified stress as one critical factor that can cause depression. 

Furthermore, researchers explain that stress is an automatic physical response to any stimulus that requires a person to change. It is a common and usual part of life and everybody experiences stress. However, not everyone can handle stress well and are not resilient to experiencing stress. At some point in our lives, nearly everyone encounters a stressful life event -- it can be a loss of a job, an illness, an end of a personal relationship, or a death of a loved one. Some people can cope better than others, but some people are not equipped to cope in these stressful situations and researchers say that it can cause them to develop depression. 

Stress Does Not Always Lead to Depression 

In a new study done by the Society of Neuroscience, severe or chronic stress is not always the culprit when a person is depressed. The researchers claim that some people are resistant to being depressed and anhedonia or the inability to feel pleasure when they are exposed to chronic stress. In their experiment, the team trained rats to activate an electrode that can stimulate reward circuits in the brain that can cause feelings of pleasure. Then the arts were exposed to experiencing social stress once a day, after that they were given access to self-stimulation for fifteen minutes. 

They found out that the rats that were susceptible to anhedonia reportedly had higher stress levels and also a higher need to feel pleasure compared to the resilient rats. The susceptible rats to anhedonia had more serotonin neurons in the central part of their brain which is responsible for regulating stress and reward. The researchers explained that they activated neurons in the central amygdala to prevent the increase of serotonin signaling, the rats experienced lower social stress, as reported on Science Daily, a scientific and academic news website. 

It is tremendously important to understand how stress can affect animals and people in order to truly validate the cause of certain diseases and in this case, a certain mental disorder which is depression. 

The researchers claim that some people are resistant to being depressed and anhedonia or the inability to feel pleasure when they are exposed to chronic stress / Photo by: Katarzyna Białasiewicz via 123RF


Good Kind of Stress 

Not all stress can lead to depression, in fact, psychologists refer to this kind of good stress as “eustress”, it is the kind of stress that people feel when they are full of excitement. This is the kind of stress that people feel when they ride a roller coaster, go on a first date, or when they participate in a game. According to Very Well Mind, a news website for psychology and human behavior, ideally people can choose to experience good stress. Individuals can plan activities and set goals that can make them feel happy and excited.