Cutting Edge Psychology

The relationship between depression & trauma

Posted on June 6, 2013 at 2:05 AM

The main way of making sense of depression in our society has become psychiatric, i.e the notion that all mental conditions, such as depression, result from aberrant brain chemicals. The reason why this model cant legitimately be called neurological is that when neurology (the branch of science which actually studies the brain) evaluates the evidence, it finds a mixed and confused bag. As an example, there is as much evidence from neurology that depression is related to too much serotonin as there is evidence suggesting that depression is related to not enough serotonin. Some drugs (which make less serotonin available in the brain) have the same rate of effectiveness in treating depression (marginally above the placebo rate) as do drugs which make more serotonin available in the brain. If depression results from not enough serotonin (the most popular psychiatric theory) then both types of drugs could not possibly treat depression- but they do. Professor Irving Kirsch provides evidence that both types of drugs 'work' via an enhanced placebo effect. People in clinical trials (which are supposedly 'blind' - neither the subjects nor the experimenters know whether they have been put on an inert placebo or the 'real thing') actually know which experimental condition they have been put into. Antidepressants are not inert pills- they do create changes in the brain/body. Placebos are inert pills- usually disguised sugar tablets which will not create noticeable changes. Study subjects can easily work out whether they have been put on the placebo or the active drug, and an enhanced placebo effect operates. In this way, the psychiatric proposal of aberrant brain chemicals accounting for depression has been very successfully marketed, so that most people in the Western world these days just 'know' that depression results from wonky serotonin levels.


If the psychiatric model does not hold up to scrutiny, then what does cause depression? Could it be the nature of our society itself? Our culture seems to promote an approach to relationships which makes human beings disposable; a belief in relationships that the other people are there to serve my needs and commands, regardless of the degree of violence needed to get them met; chronic unemployment and built in socio-economic disadvantage; racism; the violent, sexual and emotional abuse of children; the approach to parenting which gives children as much central importance in their parent's lives (and life-styles) as pet dogs and cats- there for our pleasure; chronic over-work and no time for enjoyment; loneliness and isolation. The list seems endless. We really dont need to resort to spurious claims of aberrant brain chemicals when there are so many likely candidates in the real world where people actually live. The psychiatric/neuro-chemistry theory of depression wants us to believe that despair and hopelessness occurs in an experiential vacuum. This is very convenient, if you believe that society is just fine as it is- individuals can be adjusted to suit it, e.g the answer to child sexual abuse is to have the victims put on Prozac, not to call the abuse what it is, heal its wounds and demand that it stop.


The attached article demonstrates the very close relationship between trauma (as seen in its most apparent manifestation- PTSD) and depression. However, as neurologist Robert Scaer suggests, PTSD is just the tip of the trauma spectrum. We live in a somewhat traumatised culture- abuse, violence and threat are rampant. For every person assessed as suffering from PTSD, there are many who are carrying significant trauma, and who are depressed as a result. The psychiatric model of depression invites us to ignore the reality of trauma in people's lives. The psycho-social model of depression sees the realities and attempts to both help people heal, and to challenge the culture to stop violating its members. It is also worth noting that trauma is hugely over-represented in the population who suffer from chronic pain.


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