Depression is a common mental disorder, and roughly 350 million people suffer from it worldwide. Depression affects all people regardless of age, geographic location, demographic or social position.The World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2030, depression will be the second highest medical cause for disability in the world, second only to HIV/AIDS. To break the stigma around this very real illness that affects millions around the world, we bring you 15 eye-opening research and facts about depression that you absolutely must know.
- Women are approximately two times more likely than men to suffer from major depression because they may have a stronger genetic predisposition to developing it.
Compared to men, women are much more subjected to fluctuating hormone levels, especially around the time of childbirth and menopause. The American Psychological Association states that the rate of sexual and physical abuse is much higher in women than previously suspected and is a major factor in causing depression. Married women are also more prone to depression, but the opposite is true for men. Women of color are also more likely than Caucasian women to develop depression due to racial and ethnic discrimination, lower educational and income levels, segregation into low status and high-stress jobs and unemployment. Men and women experience depression in radically different ways due to their hormonal make-up, and a comprehensive study of the same is of utmost importance in the treatment of it.
- Depression can cause you to dream up to 3 to 4 times more than you normally would.
Psychologists in the 1970’s observed that people suffering from depression reported more dreams than the average person. The quality of dreams experienced during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep was intriguing as well: they were more emotionally intense, there were more negative themed-dreams and more nightmares. Because these unpleasant dreams are often experienced hand-in-hand with insomnia and lesser deep-sleep states (the kind of sleep that refreshes and restores), clinically depressed dreamers wake up feeling exhausted and as though they have returned to waking reality after a long and hard battle.
- Creativity has been linked to depression, anxiety, and “madness”. Research reveals that writers are 121% more likely to suffer from bipolar depression and 50% more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
Many creative individuals like John Lennon, Vincent van Gogh and Ludwig van Beethoven suffered from depression. Van Gogh, for instance, was plagued with periodic melancholy and perpetual loneliness. His art was a channel and medium for expressing these very themes. Charles Dickens, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O’Neill were known to suffer from depression, and so did Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf. Sylvia Plath, the writer, committed suicide by sticking her head in an oven while her children slept. Earlier studies suggested that there could be an inherited trait that facilitates creativity and mental illness together. While it would be incorrect to say that all creative people risk developing depression, a staggering percentage of artists experience a descent to the underworld in their creative endeavours.
- According to a study, Psilocybin, the chemical compound found in psychedelic mushrooms, grows new brain cells and could be used as a treatment for PTSD and depression.
Scientists induced intense psychedelic trips in 12 people using high doses of psilocybin in oral capsule form. A week later, all the volunteers were depression-free. Three months after the experience, five of the 12 subjects still had no symptoms of the condition. Amanda Feiling from the Beckley Foundation said:
“For the first time in many years, people who were at the end of the road with currently available treatments reported decreased anxiety, increased optimism and an ability to enjoy things. This is an unparalleled success and could revolutionize the treatment of depression.”
Scientists involved in the research speculate that the subjects may have experienced a type of “awakening”, the kind achieved by spiritual teaching.
- Breastfeeding can halve the risk of post-natal depression, according to a large study of 14,000 new mothers. On the flip side, the risk increased substantially in women who planned to breastfeed but were unable to do so.
According to data from the World Health Organisation, 1 in every 10 women will develop depression after giving birth to their child. Post-natal depression is a very real issue and not often talked about even in medical circles. The senior policy adviser at parenting charity NCT, Rosemary Dodds, said:
“Mothers often experience pressures after the birth such as pain, shortage of sleep and anxiety. Breastfeeding can help to relax mothers and reduce stress, so it might play a part in preventing mental health issues developing.’
Earlier studies have shown that there is direct correlation between the mood of the mother and the child, and as such, researchers and mental health professionals encourage further studies into this subject as it a massive problem for many new mothers.
- After combing through the health records of 1.3 million people over 10 years, researchers found an unusual link between cat bites and depression.
Over 41% of those who showed up at the hospital for cat bites were also treated for depression at some point, and a staggering 86% of them were women. The study also suggests that there’s a 50% chance that you will be diagnosed with depression at some point if you are a woman who’s been bitten by a cat. Researchers guess that there’s a possibility that depressed people are more likely to own cats and thus have a higher likelihood to be bitten than non-owners. Another possibility suggests that people who are depressed act in ways that make cats more likely to bite them. Many domestic animals like dogs, horses and pigs are known to respond to their owner’s gestures and mannerisms.
- Brazilian researchers concluded that Ayahuasca, a psychedelic drink used for centuries in healing ceremonies could be a possible treatment for depression.
The researchers conducted a pilot study of a potential therapeutic benefit for Ayahuasca, a South American plant-based brew. The study included six volunteers and no placebo group, but the scientists say that the drink began to reduce depression in the subjects within hours and the effect persisted three weeks later. Ayahuasca may contain compounds that alter the neurotransmitter serotonin’s concentration in the brain – the same effect that antidepressants aim to achieve.
- A study conducted by Columbia University shows that spirituality and religion may protect against depression by thickening the brain cortex.
A study conducted by professor Lisa Miller at Teachers College, Columbia University revealed that regular meditation or other spiritual or religious practice is associated with the thickening of the cerebral cortex. It involved 103 adults at high and low risk of depression based on their family history. Each subject was asked their stance on religion and spirituality. When brain MRIs were conducted on the, they discovered that subjects who valued religion or spirituality higher had thicker brain cortices. These were also found in exactly the same brain regions that had shown thinning in people who had a higher risk of developing depression.
- Research conducted on comedians have shown they are usually more depressed than the average person.
Academicians from the University of Oxford conducted research into comedians’ psychological traits by studying personality questionnaires filled in by 523 comedians (404 men and 119 women) from the UK, US and Australia. Gordon Claridge, professor at the University of Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology said,“On the one hand, they were rather introverted, depressive, rather schizoid, you might say. And on the other hand, they were rather extroverted and manic. Possibly the comedy – the extroverted side – is a way of dealing with the depressive side. Of course, this is not true of all comedians.”
Dr Nick Maguire of University of Southampton opines that there may be a connection between depression and comedy (albeit not a strong one), in the sense that laughing and inciting laughter in people could be used as a method to cope with the inner turmoil.
- People who spend a lot of time on the internet are more likely to be depressed, lonely and mentally unstable, a study found.
Despite accounting for other varying factors, it was observed that the more social media one used, the more likely they were to suffer from depression. University of Gothenburg’s researchers studied the online habits of more than 4,100 Swedish men and women between the ages of 20 and 24 over a year and found that those who are constantly glued to their screens develop stress, depression and sleeping disorders much more easily than those who don’t. Sara Thomee, the lead author of the study, said:
“It was easy to spend more time than planned at the computer (e.g., working, gaming, or chatting), and this tended to lead to time pressure, neglect of other activities and personal needs (such as social interaction, sleep, physical activity), as well as bad ergonomics, and mental overload.”
- When people self-injure, e.g., cut themselves with razors, the brain immediately stops repeating painful thoughts, such as, “I am worthless and unlovable”, and releases a flood of soothing endorphins.
Experts refer to this as non-suicidal self-injury. A saddeningly high number of teenagers engage in self-harm and harbour negative emotional spaces, but a substantial percentage of cutters are not suicidal. Scientists conducted a study in which they discovered that people engage in self-injury as a way to cope with their negative and sometimes destructive emotions. To most people who do this, the activity calms them down due to the release of pain-relieving endorphins in the brain. in fact, this euphoric experience may turn into an addiction and fuel a vicious cycle.
- Placebos are 31% to 38% effective in treating depression, compared to 46% to 54% for antidepressants, studies show.
A study commissioned by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence concluded that there is strong evidence of antidepressants having greater efficacy than placebo. They saw a 50% reduction in depression intensity in moderate and severe major depression a similar effect was observed in cases of mild depression. A new paper published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry studied the unique relationship between placebo and antidepressants showed that men and women who reported a substantial improvement in depression symptoms after taking placebo pills also had a greater likelihood to experience positive results when they took real antidepressants.
- Moderate exercise can not only treat but actually prevent episodes of depression in the long term.
PhD candidate George Mammen’s paper published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has found that physical activity doesn’t just effectively treat depression, but moderate exercise can actually recurring episodes of depression in the long-term. Mammen analyzed findings from over 26 years’ worth of research and discovered that even low levels of physical exertion (like walking and gardening for 20-30 minutes a day) can keep depression at bay for people of all ages.
- Gratitude can boost dopamine and serotonin, just like antidepressants.
Feelings of gratefulness activate the brain stem regions that produce dopamine and serotonin, which makes social and inter-personal interactions more enjoyable. Focusing on the positive aspects of one’s life is a simple act that increases serotonin production in the brain. In addition to all these great benefits, gratitude towards oneself and others creates a feedback loop in relationships. You get what you give.
- A video game designed to treat depression worked better than counseling.
Researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand published results of a study comparing the video game (called SPARX) against traditional counseling. The game guides the players through numerous challenges to gain insight into handling real-life situations and emotions. They are also taught cognitive behavioural therapy techniques for identifying and dealing with symptoms of depression (dealing with negative thoughts, problem-solving, relaxation and so on)