Sure, many believe that depression is just a simple imbalance in the mind, but it is so much more than that. There is a lot in regards to depression that we are still completely unsure about.

For those who may not know there is a manual known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. This is what is used to diagnose those who may have depression. However, there is an exception to this manual that is known as the grief exception. The grief exception is for instance when we lose a loved one and become depressed, that suggests our symptoms are more experience related rather than it being some kind of imbalance.

This grief exception has brought lots of questions to how we diagnose depression in general. Sure, we try to make it seem as if it is a mere mental issue, but as I mentioned above there is clearly so much more to it than that. Dr. Joanne Cacciatore from Arizona State University is what one would consider an expert on this exception as she has been through it and researched it extensively. She took the time to speak with writers from the Guardian and revealed a lot of interesting things in the process of doing so.

Cacciatore wrote the book “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” because she knew there was more to depression than meets the eye. She was puzzled by the mysteries surrounding depression and wanted to do everything she could to get to the bottom of things.

You see she was someone who, like many still remained depressed all the while medicated. It seems somewhere between 65 and 80 percent of those who take antidepressants still feel depressed within one year of doing so. While she originally thought she was a bit of a freak for still feeling depressed after learning this she realized she was onto something.

Cacciatore told the Guardian as follows:

I didn’t want to hear this. Once you settle into a story about your pain, you are extremely reluctant to challenge it. It was like a leash I had put on my distress to keep it under some control. I feared that if I messed with the story I had lived with for so long, the pain would run wild, like an unchained animal. Yet the scientific evidence was showing me something clear, and I couldn’t ignore it.

So, what is really going on? When I interviewed social scientists all over the world – from São Paulo to Sydney, from Los Angeles to London – I started to see an unexpected picture emerge. We all know that every human being has basic physical needs: for food, for water, for shelter, for clean air. It turns out that, in the same way, all humans have certain basic psychological needs. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel valued. We need to feel we’re good at something. We need to feel we have a secure future. And there is growing evidence that our culture isn’t meeting those psychological needs for many – perhaps most – people. I kept learning that, in very different ways, we have become disconnected from things we really need, and this deep disconnection is driving this epidemic of depression and anxiety all around us.

Let’s look at one of those causes, and one of the solutions we can begin to see if we understand it differently. There is strong evidence that human beings need to feel their lives are meaningful – that they are doing something with purpose that makes a difference. It’s a natural psychological need. But between 2011 and 2012, the polling company Gallup conducted the most detailed study ever carried out of how people feel about the thing we spend most of our waking lives doing – our paid work. They found that 13% of people say they are “engaged” in their work – they find it meaningful and look forward to it. Some 63% say they are “not engaged”, which is defined as “sleepwalking through their workday”. And 24% are “actively disengaged”: they hate it.

Most of the depressed and anxious people I know, I realized, are in the 87% who don’t like their work. I started to dig around to see if there is any evidence that this might be related to depression. It turned out that a breakthrough had been made in answering this question in the 1970s, by an Australian scientist called Michael Marmot. He wanted to investigate what causes stress in the workplace and believed he’d found the perfect lab in which to discover the answer: the British civil service, based in Whitehall. This small army of bureaucrats was divided into 19 different layers, from the permanent secretary at the top, down to the typists. What he wanted to know, at first, was: who’s more likely to have a stress-related heart attack – the big boss at the top, or somebody below him?

Everybody told him: you’re wasting your time. Obviously, the boss is going to be more stressed because he’s got more responsibility. But when Marmot published his results, he revealed the truth to be the exact opposite. The lower an employee ranked in the hierarchy, the higher their stress levels and the likelihood of having a heart attack. Now he wanted to know: why?

And that’s when, after two more years studying civil servants, he discovered the biggest factor. It turns out if you have no control over your work, you are far more likely to become stressed – and, crucially, depressed. Humans have an innate need to feel that what we are doing, day-to-day, is meaningful. When you are controlled, you can’t create meaning out of your work.

Suddenly, the depression of many of my friends, even those in fancy jobs – who spend most of their waking hours feeling controlled and unappreciated – started to look not like a problem with their brains, but a problem with their environments. There are, I discovered, many causes of depression like this. However, my journey was not simply about finding the reasons why we feel so bad. The core was about finding out how we can feel better – how we can find real and lasting antidepressants that work for most of us, beyond only the packs of pills we have been offered as often the sole item on the menu for the depressed and anxious. I kept thinking about what Dr. Cacciatore had taught me – we have to deal with the deeper problems that are causing all this distress.

What do you think of Cacciatore’s take on things? Do you think her perspective on things is more accurate than the manual used in current times? Feel free to check out the video below to hear Cacciatore speak.

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