Posts tagged: Depression

Emotional Support

Business Logo for Psychological and Neuropsychological IssuesBuildings are supported, bridges are supported, governments are supported, and even people are supported.  It is relatively easy to spot sufficient support of the first three.  If the physical structure of the first two bear your weight and resist the urge to fall down, then the building or bridge is considered well supported.  Governments that receive sufficient financial support shoulder the desires of the populace and stand tall in adversity.  Similarly, people who receive adequate emotional support bear the weight of their world and remain standing throughout.  Perhaps physical support is not far removed from its emotional cousin.  Perhaps that is why the word “support” lends itself to both interpretations.

It may be less than flattering to compare oneself with a government, much less a building or bridge.  Americans do not readily accept support, and view the need for support as a sign of weakness.  Americans are great at providing support, especially physical support; perceiving the lending of support as virtuous and powerful.  Americans are much happier giving support than receiving the same.  Perhaps it is the vestiges of the pioneer spirit.  Perhaps it is a fear of appearing needy and weak.  It can’t be denied that the receiving of support automatically assumes a one down position.  How one chooses to perceive this one down position is the critical factor in the equation.

No matter the degree of intelligence and self-sufficiency, all people require support at some time in their lives.  Some people may never require further physical support after childhood, but they will require emotional support to thrive.  We are social animals, and the fact that ninety percent of us live in cities is sufficient proof of this allegation.  A particular subset of people called schizoid do not appear to need contact with other people; at least not much.  For the rest of us, depression ensues when there is a lack of emotional support in our social environment.  The experience of grief is largely the result of a sudden break in social support.  The recent surge in mass shootings almost always comes from those who, for one reason or another, lack emotional support.

The schizoid person, mentioned above, does not perceive a problem with little emotional support.  This is their preference, and they may be quite successful in other areas of their life.  Such people are rather rare, accounting for far less than one percent of the population.  People that experience grief over a sudden loss are typically bathed in attention from other people, as this is the standard response of most cultures.  A progressive loss of support from illness or job loss does not curry the sympathy engendered by the death of an intimate attachment.  It may be difficult for this subset of people to develop supportive relationships, at least until they feel better or obtain a new job.  Those who take up a gun are exacting revenge upon a society that they perceive as purposefully withholding support.  They experience the lack of emotional support as a personal affront.

Perhaps the alienation many Americans experience is really a loss of emotional support.  We Americans are loath to ask for physical or emotional support, such that the subsequent alienation may be more prevalent in this country than others.  Furthermore, the recent economic downtown has disrupted work relationships and created greater familial stress over finances.    It is a general rule that increased stress engenders decreased emotional availability.  It is difficult to think of others when preoccupied with ourselves.  Many are injured and yet they do not ask for help.  Perhaps it is time for the pioneer philosophy to end.  It would be great to retain its spirit of optimism and enterprise, but this philosophy appears to come at the cost of our emotional well-being.  Increasingly, it is placing our physical well-being at risk from an alienated few.  If only Adam Lanza had decided to pick up the telephone, before deciding to pick up the gun.

Got Gut?

Business Logo for Psychological and Neuropsychological IssuesThis article will effect you at the gut level.  I have a gut feeling that you will learn something from this article.  Reading this article feels like a sock in the gut-and so on.  Popular expressions are replete with references to the gut.  Things felt at the “gut level” are believed to be especially true.  It is as if the gut contains a sort of ancient wisdom.  What the gut does contain is bacteria-lots of it.  Research increasingly suggests that the interaction between this bacteria and the brain plays a larger role in mood and behavior than previously imagined.

Dr. Siri Carpenter addressed current GI research in the September issue of the APA “Monitor.”  She wrote that about 100 million neurons are embedded in the lining of the gut.  Even if the neural connection between the brain and gut (vagus nerve) is severed, the gut will continue to function without regulation from the brain.  The gut produces neurochemicals that affect brain function in the absence of any direct neural connection.  It may be true that the gut influences the brain more than the brain influences the gut.

Most of the research cited by Dr. Carpenter is, as usual, confined to rodent populations.  Scientists have been able to make the same group of mice be calm, anxious, adventurous or timid by adjusting the bacteria in their gut.  They have even transplanted gut bacteria from one group of mice to another; in effect transplanting the behavioral features of each group as well.  The change in rodent group behavior does not necessarily require transplanting all the bacteria within the gut.  The addition or subtraction of only one bacterial strain may profoundly alter rodent behavior.

The influence of the gut on the brain is only one side of the street.  Many studies with monkeys and humans have demonstrated that elevated stress may suppress beneficial bacteria in the gut.  Chronically stressed monkeys exhibit an overall decreased diversity of bacteria in their gut, which allows the harmful bacteria to flourish.  These stressed-out monkeys are more susceptible to infection and inflammation within their gut.  Once an infection has begun, the gut produces cytokines that promote inflammation.  These inflammatory chemicals disrupt brain biochemistry in a way that may increase vulnerability to anxiety and depression.  The “Monitor” article explained that more than half the people who suffer with GI disorders also suffer with clinically significant anxiety or depression.  Many clinicians believe the prevalence of depression or anxiety in GI disorders is closer to seventy five percent.

This research may have a profound effect on the way clinicians treat both chronic GI distress and psychiatric problems.  Psychology may become the treatment of choice for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Some forms of depression and anxiety may be treated with an infusion of probiotic bacteria.  While empirically validated treatments may be years away, it does present interesting options for the present.  Those who suffer with chronic GI distress should consider treatment of their depressive or anxiety disorder symptoms, since a change in brain chemistry may decrease their physical suffering.  Conversely, people who suffer with chronic anxiety and/or depression might consider a healthy change in their diet before making a trip to the shrink.  If the options seem confusing…just listen to your gut.

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