Elizabeth Wurtzel, in her autobiography, Prozac Nation, describes the depression developmental process as follows: “Depression is a lot like that: Slowly, over the years, the data will accumulate in your heart and mind, a computer program for total negativity will build into your system, making life feel more and more unbearable…gradually and then suddenly, when someone asks how I lost my mind, that is all I can say” (Wurtzel, 1995, 23-24). Ms. Wurtzel’s statement lends further to the idea that pathology emerges from existing structures, just as all human development emerges from existing structures. Simply put, depression does not happen overnight through a discrete event. Rather, negative feedback and energy wells up inside someone’s soul until it is no longer negative energy: It becomes a pathological condition through which all of a person’s life is filtered.
How it does happen is open to some speculation; however, there are countless studies as to the causes of depression. Sroufe, et al, through their study, did observe and measure “predictors” as to whom would succumb to clinical depression as adolescents, “In the case of adolescent depression, maternal depression (.29), early care (.31), and abuse (.18) were the significant predictors” (Sroufe, et al, 2005, 260). Furthermore, Klein & Wender say, “In identifying depression in children and adolescents, it is important to know that, if depressive of manic-depressive disorder is present in one or both parents, the odds that the child will develop such an illness are considerably increased” (Klein & Wender, 2005, 72). These statements as to causes keep with Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which is a “measure of learning potential and represents the region wherein cognitive development takes place” (Garton, 2004, 8). What this ZPD implies is that what children see and believe about life is learned through watching adult behaviors within their environment. Wurtzel further amplifies this point, “A daily valium doser, my dad would spend most of our Saturday visits sleeping, leaving me to watch TV or paint with watercolors or call my mom to say, ‘Daddy won’t move, I think he’s dead” (Wurtzel, 1995, 27). The impact of her statement derives from her age when she’s observing her father’s behavior, which was six years old. A six-year-old is processing the information and, as what turned out to be true for Ms. Wurtzel, learning that life is hopeless and the reason why it is hopeless is that she was no good. Her father was emotionally absent which probably led to an attachment issue which then manifested, again over time, in a clinical and major depressive episode. Development WITH genetic preconditions, seem to be the biggest risk factors for developing Depression.
In looking at adolescents and children, It must be noted that, “it is commonly believed that it is normal for an adolescent to go through extreme moodiness, outbursts of temper, and delinquent behavior. This is simply not true. Most adolescents living under reasonable and non-depriving circumstances do quite well” (Klein & Wender, 2005, 73). Though there is ample evidence that there is significant brain change during adolescence (Schwartz, 2002) that could explain erratic behavior, environments in which provide a opportunity for an adolescent to develop a positive self-image can contain those brain-change periods and allow for continued growth. It’s a lot easier said than done, but parental engagement can go a long way in fending off developmental depression. If a parent can provide a safe environment in which a child can explore his or her emotional world, then it’s highly possible that the child can learn to that emotions are something necessary and not shameful.
Depression is never easy. It’s as individualized as those that it afflicts. However, I do think Depression does have a developmental and a genetic origin that can be detected and treated. Depression is tough, but it doesn’t have to kill.
Klein, D. & Wender, P. (2005). Understanding Depression.. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Schwartz, J. (2002). The Mind & The Brain. New York, NY: ReganBooks.
Sroufe, L., & Egeland B., & Carlson, E., & Collins, W. (2005). The Development of the Person: The Minnesota Study of Risk and Adaptation. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Wurtzel, E. (1995). Prozac Nation. New York, NY: Berkley Publishing Group