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Study examines physiological link between stress and major depression

As human beings, we all strive to live fulfilling and happy lives. Yet, throughout the course of one's life, roadblocks and challenges threaten our ability to be happy. While a job loss, divorce or death of a loved one are major and stressful life events that invoke feelings of grief and sadness in everyone; for some, these types of events trigger the onset of a major depressive state.

An estimated 15 percent of the world's population suffers from major depression. While all individuals at some time experience feelings which are readily described as being depressed, for those with major depression the feelings are more intense, disruptive and prolonged. According to the National Institutes of Health, individuals with major depression often experience severe symptoms that interfere with their ability to work, sleep, eat and enjoy life.

Major depression is widely misunderstood by many who reason an individual should be able to pull themselves out of a depressed state and move on. For individuals with major depression, however, feelings of sadness, guilt, restlessness and helplessness are all-encompassing and color every facet of life. New research may help shed light on why major depression develops as scientists work to explore the significant link between stress and major depression.

For the study university researchers set out to explore how stress affects a pleasure producing brain neurotransmitter called dopamine in mice. Researchers first noted how encountering a stimulating object, such as a ball, resulted in the release of dopamine. The mice were then exposed to stressors for a few days.

Afterwards, researchers found that the release of "stress hormones called glucocorticoids" interfered with the brain's ability to release dopamine. What's more, stress hormones were found to cause the mice to avoid those triggers that previously brought pleasure.

The results of the study help explain how stress triggers depression and, for those predisposed to major depression, can have a long-lasting and devastating effect on their lives and ability be happy.

For individuals diagnosed as suffering from major depression, the symptoms they experience often interfere with the ability to work. Thankfully, Social Security disability benefits can provide income to these individuals while they attempt to deal with their depression and get the help they need.


Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Stress Starts Up The Machinery of Major Depression," Robert M. Sapolsky, April 28, 2014National Institutes of Health, "Depression," 2014

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