ChemMatters | DECEMBER 2017/JANUARY 2018 13
Our emotions have gotten the
better of all of us at times and
control how we act and feel.
At one time or another you’ve
probably experienced feeling
inconsolably sad or unhappy.
Likewise, you’ve been unreasonably happy and optimistic.
range of human emotions and are healthy and normal. But what about
the instances when people fall into a chronic and prolonged funk they
can’t get out of? They may have passed a threshold into the realm of
clinical depression when it might not be possible for them to “will away”
their bad mood.
Depression is rarely openly discussed, but it occurs frequently in
teens and is likely underreported. In 2014, 2. 8 million adolescents aged
12 to 17 (which amounts to 11.4% of that age range) had at least one
major depressive episode. Alarmingly, suffering from depression can
make a teen 12 times more likely to commit suicide. And depression
and substance abuse are linked—about 30% of teens with depression
also have a substance abuse problem. Depression is highly treatable,
however, with about 80% of cases being managed, primarily because
of the increased understanding of brain chemistry.
What is depression?
Depression is a chronic, recurring, and
life-threatening mood disorder. It presents
itself as a collection of psychological, neu-roendocrine, physiological, and behavioral
symptoms. Symptoms include persistent
feelings of sadness, loss of interest in
activity, having an irritable mood for most
of the day, significant weight loss or gain,
insomnia, restlessness, and
fatigue. In teens, irritability
will often occur in addition to,
or in place of, sadness.
As teens lose interest in interacting with their friends, they can
become socially isolated. Many fear the social stigma associated with
depression, such as ideas that depressed people lack the willpower to
control their own emotions. The fear of being judged can prevent teens
from getting help. Overcoming the stigma associated with depression
involves understanding the underlying biochemistry of this condition.
Changes in the brain
The causes of depression are not entirely understood but are thought
to be an interplay of factors including functional, physical, and chemical
changes in the brain. At least three areas of the brain are affected in a
depressed person: the amygdala, which is involved in memory and emotional reactions; the thalamus, which is involved in speech, movement,
and learning; and the hippocampus, which processes long-term memories (Fig. 1). These areas of the brain tend to show shrinkage in people
with symptoms of depression.
The brain is composed of neurons.
A neuron is a nerve cell that is the basic
building block of the nervous system.
Neurons transmit information
throughout the body.
When you are feeling a
bit sad or depressed,
how often are you
given the useless
advice to, “cheer up, it
will be all right!”?
By Christine Scaduto
at least one
In 2014, 11.4% of teens
between the ages of
12 and 17 years old
had at least one major