This past Friday an article was published titled “Potential Cause of Depression Identified.”The writer described research that involved looking at the brains of mice and men. The question the researcher Dr Scott Russo sought to answer was whether or not chronic stress would change the way our brain circuitry functions and if that change might be responsible for major depressive disorder. The finding of his study identified a protein at the connection between nerve endings and cells in the brain “as a potential cause of depression.”
It is hard to say whether this study will be replicated or if the findings on autopsy in the brains of individuals who
were known to be depressed are actually connected to the major depressive disorder they were known to have. But, the study is exciting for two reasons. First, it is exciting because it is being done. We need more research that looks
at the cause for the disordered sadness we now call depression.
The second reason this research is exciting to me is that it is being done looking at actual human cell pathology. Any real disease must have some sort of disorder of cell function. Until we understand that disordered function, we really do not understand the problem. And, it makes it very difficult to find a solution.
In the 1850’s, Dr. Paul Ehrlich used purple dye to stain cells from residents of an “insane” asylum in Berlin. All the
residents were assumed to be insane and beyond any help that medicine had to offer at the time. Ehrlich and his colleagues found that half of the residents had an infectious disease that was known to cause their behavior. They had an infectious disease not a mental disorder. And, on his 606thtry, Ehrlich invented the first treatment for that disease by chemically modifying arsenic.
That is the kind of research we need to be doing in medicine now. As Ehrlich said, “It should be possible to find
artificial substances which are really curative for certain diseases, and not merely palliatives acting favorably on one or another symptom.” Ehrlich was looking for cures for a disease that he understood. We should be doing the same
There are two things today that could help those labeled depressed while we wait on medical science to find a cause and cure like Ehrlich did. The first would be for all of us who want to help those who struggle with sadness to understand the difference between normal sadness over loss, and disordered sadness that comes without apparent cause. The 90% who sorrow for whatever reason can find comfort and direction in the Bible. The 10% who may be struggling with undefined disease can find the same strength and comfort to deal with illness while they seek the best help available to them in medicine.
More on this subject can be found in my
book “Good Mood Bad Mood.”