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Depression Just a Chemical?


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It is often said that depression is caused just by a chemical imbalance in the brain, so all we have to do is drug ourselves to restore the imbalance to the proper level, and we should be fine. But the problem with this is that depression is highly correlated with adverse life events, and there is no reason why people who have suffered 'depressing' events in their life should also just happen to be the same people who have a chemical imbalance in the brain. If we assume that the depressing life events cause the chemical imbalance, then the chemical imbalance is no longer the ultimate cause, but just the effect of the life event, just the way moping about is caused by sad events in one's life.


Correlations can be drawn in highly misleading ways. For example, seeing an objectively real apple in the world may cause in my brain a representation of that experience in the form of an 'apple representation chemical.' We have to assume that there is always some physical correlate of any psychological experience if we are not to rely on unscientific hypotheses like the notion that experiences are represented and stored in the 'soul' but not in any physical form. But the fact that there is a distinctive chemical change in my brain in response to seeing an apple does not mean that apples are just a chemical state of the brain. On the contrary, the apple is something real in the outside world, and its representation in a different form (a brain chemical rather than a physical object) does nothing to make it 'just a chemical in the brain.'


The same is true of depression: The fact that feeling sad may cause a chemical change in the brain does not mean that the feeling is nothing but a chemical, or that the chemical is its cause.


A distinction used to be drawn between short-term, reactive depression in response to a negative experience in life, which was said to be a normal, non-pathological reaction to what had happened. A long-term depression was assumed to be an abnormal, pathological state.


But no one ever seemed willing to deal with the problem of a real world, objective problem which endures forever for the patient, or which constantly and varies or worsens, so the patient cannot adjust to it. Is the patient's depression then a normal, reactive depression to what is objectively happening in the world, or is it an abnormal response because it is not short-term? Chronic illnesses; bereavements for people who because of age or circumstance cannot form new, equivalent attachments; or the many inescapable dead-ends and traps that the complexities of modern life creates can all cause enduring and constantly worsening sources of depressive mood in the objective world.

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