Like most people with depression and anxiety, I’ve always attributed the two to a serotonin imbalance. ‘Not so fast,’ says a recent study. It turns out that serotonin is just one factor – and a small one at that.
Researchers looked at more than 32,000 participants to find the big kahuna.
“The results showed that traumatic life events are the main reason people suffer from anxiety and depression,” says lead researcher Professor Peter Kinderman. “However, the way a person thinks about, and deals with, stressful life events is as much an indicator of the level of stress and anxiety they feel.”
In other words, for most anxious and depressed people, psychiatric medications targeting serotonin are not the answer.
Rather, as Kinderman goes on to state, the answer is “to help a person to change the way they think and to teach them positive coping strategies that can mitigate and reduce stress levels.”
‘But wait,’ you might be thinking. ‘I suffer from anxiety/depression and I wouldn’t say I’ve been the victim of trauma. What gives?’
Keep in mind that Professor Kinderman never blamed trauma for all depression/anxiety cases. His study simply named it as the leading cause of the conditions – ahead of genes and social status.
Let’s jump back to the ‘I’ve never been the victim of trauma’ statement though.
Many people make that statement without fully understanding the wide-reaching nature of trauma. According to New York therapist Irina Firstein, events such as the Boston Marathon bombing and Sandy Hook School shooting can leave you traumatized – and therefore prone to depression – even if you’re not directly involved.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance confirms this, saying:
“Even if we learn about the event through the news, we will experience some sort of emotional response. These feelings, a normal part of grieving and recovering from any trauma, are also symptoms of situational or reactive depression.”
The alliance’s article goes on to state that, should these feelings last more than two weeks, they could be indicative of a more serious depressive episode.
“This is a heightened reaction to an abnormal situation, not a character flaw or sign of personal weakness.”
In other words, no one should be so quick to assume they’ve never experienced trauma. You probably wouldn’t make that sort of quick assumption about your physical health, so why jump to conclusions with your mental health?