Can Depression Be Cured?

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The simplest definition of the cause of depression is that it is a mood disorder that emanates from chemical imbalances in the brain, perhaps exacerbated by stressful events in the patient’s life.

Unfortunately, that definition understates the complexity of this disease.

In fact, there are potentially many causes of depression, including: possible genetic predispositions; excess cortisol production that might cause the hippocampus in the brain to shrink; too few serotonin receptors; personal histories of abuse; conflict, loss, illness or other stressors; prescription drugs that have depression as a side effect; substance abuse; hormone changes; and major life changes.

The course of this disease is also unpredictable. Most patients respond to antidepressants and/or talk therapy, but more than 10% don’t. Remission of depressive symptoms is possible, but so is relapse. Many patients find depression to be a chronic, if manageable, disease.

With such a complex matrix of causes and manifestations, how can this disorder be cured?

The answer at this moment in time is that it can’t.

After many decades of research, we have not yet found the single specific defect in the brain that causes depression. There is still no biological test or radiological exam that will prove depression. There is still no genetic anomaly identified that will point us to a diagnosis and treatment. And there is no widely-accepted definition of what a cure would look like.

Despite the fact we have labeled depression as an illness, if you can’t define its root cause, you can’t develop a cure for it.

Depression can be successfully treated, of course. Prescription therapies continue to evolve and result in improved outcomes. There are a number of different forms of talk therapy – cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and many others – and a competent therapist treating a willing patient will generally produce a good result. Combining prescription and talk therapy will result in high levels of remission.

But relapse is still possible, and the patient will again need to seek treatment to gain relief.

There are many diseases that resist cures: diabetes, cancer, MS, cardio-vascular disease and so many others. We learn to live with them, accepting treatment that helps keep symptoms at bay and lengthens lives. We continue to research, hoping for that understanding of these diseases that will lead to prevention or a cure. In reality, though, these diseases are also multi-factorial and not likely to find a single cure.

Those who suffer from depression should not be deterred from seeking treatment simply because it will not lead to a cure. Where there is pain – emotional or otherwise – there is no shame in seeking relief.

Sources: WebMD , Psychology Today and How Stuff Works

 
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