Depression and Learned Helplessness

To study a “ new antidepressant” , researchers have to conduct “animal studies”. Since, we are testing a drug which is supposed to lift depression- the question is “how to demonstrate its effectiveness in animals. Quandary is, that except for dogs, who perhaps because of “being man’s best friends” for eons , other creatures are not afflicted by this malady to the best of my knowledge.
So the problem becomes of “inoculating them with the virus of depression”.
This feat is accomplished by coming up what the scientists call an animal model.
One such model is “learned helplessness”. What they do that they create a situation for the animal say a mouse where in it feels helpless and to conserve its energy, which is a biological advantage, it simply gives up. To explain more clearly they would put a mouse in a big container of water from which it cannot escape however hard it tries ,so it keeps swimming but after sometime it just floats realizing it’s futile to swim , thus conserving energy .
A parallel human situation would be someone in a shipwreck swim for a little bit but finding the land is not reachable gives up swimming and just floats.
Coming back to the animal model they repeat the experiment after injecting the animal, in this case a mouse with the new test chemical “purported-to be new antidepressant”. If the antidepressant is effective the animal would swim for a longer time before giving up.
So what an anti-depressant is doing is “buying time” and hoping help is on the way to address what is causing depression -myriad of causes, ranging from socioeconomic to psychological ,unfolding within the genetic makeup.
More of this next time, as for now,I want to focus on how could one address this learned helplessness by other means say for example exercise and biofeedback. One of the common symptoms of depression is that a person does not have much energy left and he’s lethargic.
I will start off with exercise since that’s easy to understand and to practice. There are twofold effects of exercise -one is causing neuro-chemical changes and the other is an indirect communication to the mind that one is not helpless. The helplessness in a “shipwreck” situation is a biological advantage but otherwise it’s like “ barking at the wrong tree”
The mind may start “ retuning to this “normal”level of activity and may in turn feel “better”. In other words if body sends the message “I am not giving up” mind recalibrate into thinking “the situation doesn’t demand “giving up” or in other words be in the “helpless mode”. The neurochemical changes caused by exercise also mitigate depression.


Of course if it doesn’t work the medication’s are available to break this vicious cycle of depression.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s