The term ‘depression’ is used so frequently nowadays. But what is it really? Let me try and define it by using a story.
Picture me, driving in traffic. When I see a red traffic light I instinctively want my foot to step on the brake pedal to stop the car. Take a look at the sketch on the screen.
The ‘red light’ message needs to travel from my eye to my foot in order for the action of braking to take place. Think of that message that needs to travel along a cable. Let’s call it a ‘nerve cable’ that should connect what the eye sees, to what the foot should do. This ‘nerve cable’ that transmits the message, is made up of short nerve pieces called dendrites, lying end to end. They don’t touch each other. They’re almost like hands, reaching out to each other, stretching out their ‘dendrite fingertips’ if you can picture it.
Between the dendrite ‘fingertips’ are spaces. These spaces are called synaptic clefts. Are you keeping up with this picture I’m trying to paint? Look at the sketch on the screen to see what I mean.
That synaptic cleft is filled with fluid containing hormones. Now obviously the picture I’m painting here is a closed system … this message system from the eye to the foot.
Can you see the purple dendrite in the first of the three pictures? It’s almost touching the orange dendrite. In the second picture we zoom in to see what’s happening. Here we can see the dendrites are almost touching, but not quite.
So what’s lying between the two dendrites in that area called the synaptic cleft? We said the area is filled with hormones. These hormones are called serotonin molecules, and for the purpose of our story we’ve illustrated them as little green wheelbarrows.
When I need a message to travel from my eye to my foot, the only way the ‘red light’ message can reach my foot is if it successfully travels along the dendrite pathways. How does the message get from one dendrite ‘fingertip’ across to the next?
The little serotonin wheelbarrows need to transport it across! What happens when the little serotonin wheelbarrow reaches the next dendrite? It’s successfully completed its job, and it disintegrates. It gets broken down. It cannot get re-used.
So in our bodies, every message and impulse causes a serotonin molecule to be lost once it has fulfilled its message delivery.
But what happens when we don’t have enough serotonin molecules to deliver all these messages? We’ve got a problem. All the messages can’t be delivered!
Essentially, this is what depression is. There are not enough serotonin molecules available in our bodies to effectively carry messages along our dendrite pathways.
I don’t brake in time – my foot didn’t get that message. So I crash.
So what can be done about this serotonin shortage?
An antidepressant can be taken.
The antidepressant helps to prevent the breaking down of serotonin molecules – our little green wheelbarrows. In order to do this, the wheelbarrows cannot be allowed to enter the destination dendrite. If they do, they are destroyed. So the antidepressant ‘fixes’ this by placing chemical plugs at the point of entry, which stop the little wheelbarrow from being destroyed.
The anti depressant can not at all increase the amount of Serotonin.
- It prevents the destroying of the Serotonin molecules.
- The body secretes new Serotonin molecules and since they are not being destroyed their numbers gradually increases.
What an antidepressant does is that it gradually increases the amount of serotonin molecules available. This assists in restoring the movement of messages from dendrite to dendrite.
How fascinating is this. The little wheelbarrow crashes into the plug. It tips over and the ‘red light’ message in that wheelbarrow lands up in the next dendrite without the wheelbarrow being destroyed. What an incredible way of preventing the loss of serotonin molecules (Green wheelbarrow)
The little green wheelbarrow (serotonin molecule) goes back to the previous dendrite and can be re-used to convey more and more and more…messages What a wonderful process antidepressants have to offer! Saving the used dendrites to
So we have two things happening thanks to the introduction of antidepressants. The existing serotonin molecules are re-used. And then when we sleep, additional new serotonin molecules are manufactured and secreted during the deep sleep phase. Gradually, they become more and more, enabling our bodies to transmit those red light messages more effectively.
You see, the trouble with depressed people is that they don’t sleep very well. They frequently don’t experience that deep sleep phase, so no serotonin molecules can be secreted.
Antidepressants offer a logical, wonderful way of combatting the problem and restoring the way our bodies function.