The Affects Of Depression On Teenage Learning

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The History of Depression; Diagnosis and Treatment

As the statistics before shed a light on how many teenagers from ages twelve to nineteen are suffering from depression, it is questionable how treatment and diagnosis is processed both from the past and the present. A study led by Jean Twenge further displayed findings in which five times as many high school students are dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues as youth of the same age who were studied in the era of the Great Depression. These numbers are drastically disturbing, as we live in a time that allows teenagers to gain the help and support they need. However, time has not been so gracious in allowing for society to fully understand how mental illness affects the brain. It is evident that the process of diagnosis and treatment was drastically different than it is today. So how was depression diagnosed and treated, and how did it evolve over time?

In the time of Greeks, Hippocrates became of the idea that melancholia, or modern day depression was caused by an imbalance in four body fluids; yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood (Schimelpfening, N.). Hippocrates’ idea of melancholia stemmed from an abundance of black bile in the human body that could be treated through diet and exercise. Unlike Hippocrates’ idea of modern day depression, a Roman philosopher named Cicero had the more accurate understanding of depression; it was caused by fear, anger, and grief (Schimelpfening, N.). In the time of the Romans and Greeks, depression was treated using more of a therapeutic approach for treatment. For example, treatments would include massages, gymnastics, music, baths, and donkey’s milk (Schimelpfening, N.). During the Common time, there was a much more extreme way to treat mental illness. A physician of the time, named Cornelius Celsus believed for treatment to go as far as beating patients, placing them in shackles, and even going as far as to starving them (Schimelpfening, N.). However, to contradict Celsus’ thinking, a Persian doctor named Rhazes had concluded that depression was due to one’s brain functions and began the treatment of behavioral therapy, in which rewarded patients for good thinking and good behavior (Schimelpfening, N.). Despite this, during the Middle ages depression and mental illness was more spiritual and physical, thus making the physicians turn to exorcisms, drowning, burning at the stake, and even going as far as to go on “witch hunts” in order to find the mentally insane (Schimelpfening, N.). Seeing as how far doctors decided to treat their patients, it is relieving to know how much knowledge and research has come, in allowing for such barbaric treatments to phase out of their options.

In the more recent time of the nineteenth century, depression and mental illnesses were seen as a weakness; henceforth the introduction of mental institutions in order to keep those who are diagnosed locked away. However, as time went on, doctors hypothesized that aggression was the root of depression. This was treated through baths and medication, but then doctors began to recommend talking to doctors or friends about how they felt. In 1917 Sigmund Freud theorized that melancholia was a response to loss. He believed that psychoanalysis could help a person resolve unconscious conflicts whilst other doctors during this time, saw depression as a brain disorder. In much more modern times, views of depression incorporate an understanding of many symptoms, as well as the effect that these symptoms can have. As mentioned previously, the side effects of depression include sleep deprivation, memory loss, and trouble learning. In the seventies it was believed that you learned mental illnesses through life experiences and observing the people around you. This theory is what made physicians believe that depression was hereditary, and that mental illness was passed on genetically. However, physicians also believed that you could unlearn these depressive symptoms and be able to heal mentally (Schimelpfening, N.). In the time of much more sophisticated technology and diagnosing techniques, we understand so much more about this mental illness that we as a society have ever known before.

These findings were rather concerning, and there has been a multitude of better and more advanced ways to diagnose mental health issues. We have access to modern day medicine and mental health organizations to allow for patients to overcome their mental illnesses rather than shunning them for it. Although society has come a long way in diagnosing depression, there is more that we can learn about the human mind as time and technology move forward. It is evident that society could never fully understand how the mind works, but we still need to build our ideas and findings off of current data and results. Even though society understands depression a lot more than in the past, there is still need to research and investigate how depression is caused. There are a lot of possible causes of depression that have been discovered, yet there is so much we still need to figure out as a society.

Showing how far science and psychology has come since the ancient greeks in diagnosing mental illnesses, there can’t be just one answer to every question. As science evolves, and technology advances, there could be more aspects on how depression affects learning. From being caused by fluids to having multitudes of contributions to a single mental illness, imagining how technology will advance even more and gaining knowledge on how depression affects a person both menatlly and physically.

How Depression affects the Brain Physically and Hormonally

Depression affects the brain in more than one way, including memory, hormonal, and physical responses to the effects of depression in the brain. Parts of the brain release hormones when stressed, in which includes depressive episodes. When your brain gets flooded with certain hormones for rather long periods of time, it can slow, and stop the growth of new neuron passageways in the hippocampus. This results in the hippocampus actually shrinking in size, which in turn leads to memory problems. A study conducted by M. E. Ellis found that when a person is stressed, or exposed to stressful situations, the hippocampus releases cortisol when you’re stressed. When the brain gets flooded with cortisol for long periods of time, it can and will cause the symptoms explained above. The hippocampus is part of the limbic system, and is responsible for holding long term memory, including knowledge and experiences.

If the hippocampus is responsible for storing long-term memory, how could it shrink from an abundance of hormones? According to Dr. Gail Gross, cortisol affects the growth and decreasing amount of neurons in the hippocampus, and an abundance of cortisol decreases the amount of neurons in the hippocampus, thus causing memory loss. Along with this, Lupien et. al. proposes that “Early brain development during times of stress and trauma can both reduce hippocampal volume as well as inhibit the natural potential of the brain’s developmental course.” Dr. Gross also explains “Since the amygdala is the part of the brain that develops the slowest and increases in volume when exposed to trauma and stress, adversity can cause it to modify the direction of natural brain development.” Henceforth, students who are exposed to prolonged stress, depression being one of them, the hippocampus will be unable to hold much long-term information due to the lack of neuron passageways.

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Cortisol does not only affect the hippocampus, it also affects the amygdala. The amygdala is associated with emotional responses in human behavior and cognitive processes. Investigated by M.E. Ellis, high cortisol concentration are triggered by depression and stressful situations. This also causes the amygdala to enlarge just as the effect it has on the hippocampus. When the amygdala swells and becomes more active, it causes sleep disturbance, and changes in activity levels. For more evidence to support the physical effects of depression; a study conducted by Therese J. Borchard in 2018, depression cases physical effects, such as headaches, appetite problems, sleeping problems. Along with this, Borchard had concluded that stress on the brain also causes problems in school. With sleep disturbance comes lack in concentration and performance in everyday tasks; in teenagers, school is part of everyday tasks. Physical disturbances such as headaches and other ailments causes distractions in concentrations of students in the classroom.

If these are examples of how hormones affect the physical functioning of the brain, how does stress affect the brain and body in other ways? Well, brain inflammation is correlated with stress, but Ellis has made it stated that there is no knowledge if depression causes inflammation of the brain, or if inflammation of the brain causes depression. Ellis claims that through many studies, there is a strong correlation involving depression and brain inflammation even though there is no clear direct causation of the phenomenon. Ellis also states that brain inflammation causes disruption in neurotransmitters, as well as worsen depression symptoms. Lack of oxygen to the brain, also known as hypoxia, is linked to depression symptoms. Hypoxia is the result of the brain not getting adequate amounts of oxygen, which can include inflammation and injury, and even in some cases, death of brain cells. Connecting back to the effects of cortisol on the hippocampus and amygdala, this will cause memory loss and mood swings.

The study conducted by Ellis in which it is unknown if the swelling of the brain causes depression, or vice versa shows that there could be little to no evidence to prove that either causes each other to occur. With this limitation, it shows that there could be more that needs to be discovered about how depression affects the physical aspects of the brain, and not just the hormonal aspects. With the results given, it is indisputable that depression does have an affect on how the brain functions. From memory loss due to the lack of neurotransmitters to sleep disturbances, these ailments contribute to how a student performs in the classroom. Lack of sleep causes trouble concentrating at the tasks at hand, in which can cause emotional distress and frustration. Memory loss affects the studying of a student, due to the student being unable to remember what they had just studied the night before. Seeing as how this can affect student grades, there is a concern that comes to how the student succeeds in their education.

How the Effects Depression has on the Brain Affects Performance in School

With the evidence that depression affects the brain physically, how could these effects contribute to performance in school? With the shrinking of both the hippocampus and amygdala, there is a strong assumption that this would affect teenage learning drastically. A study conducted by the Foundations Recovery Network found that many people with depression frequently experience memory problems and have trouble remembering events or details. This can cause students to forget about rather important deadlines and thus cause their grades to slip. With this, a decline in grades is one of the first signs of depression, states Paradigm Malibu. Corresponding to this research, Paradigm Malibu also states, “Depressed teens will often refuse to complete tasks they feel are too difficult or overwhelming, particularly if it causes them to doubt their ability to complete the task. (…) Failing at an assignment only encourages a false self-perception of being dumb, incapable, or worthy of rejection. Add to this that depression often affects thinking clearly, effectively, and efficiently.” Gilded S. Pine states from her own study that depressed adolescents are almost twice as likely to be behind a grade in school as those who were not depressed or suffering from mental illness. Students that suffer from depression develop a decrease in interest and motivation involving both school and personal activities. With the lack of motivation, the attendance of students decrease. Pine stated in her study on teen depression, that “Depression was correlated with a significant increase in the number of school days missed”. Along with this, Pine states that depressed adolescents were twice as likely to be behind a grade in school as those who were not depressed. Correlating with the domino effect, a study conducted by Marcotte Wilcox-Gok and Farahati and Borkoski in 2004 concluded that males who recalled early states of depression before the age of 16 had a reduced chance of graduating from high school. Connecting to this, a study conducted by the Recovery Health Network came to the conclusion that feelings of hopelessness or low self-esteem will cause individuals to believe they shouldn’t bother, or even are unable to learn new things.

Although there is enough evidence and support to back up the idea that depression causes students to gain disinterest in school and activities, it does not correlate with every teen diagnosed with depression. For example, Pine concluded that students who are doing poorly at school may become depressed in consequence to poor grades. Henceforth stating that not every student who suffers from bad grades is due to the effect of depression on the mind. Kuwabara J. Humensky stated that the Dunedin birth cohort study found anxiety and depression in adolescence had weak associations with subsequent educational attainment. Humensky also concluded that the NCS Replication in the years 2001–02 did not find that major depression or dysthymia were associated with a decreased chance of completing high school and college. They also state that with regard to ability to do well in school, no covariates were statistically significant. This is evidence to support the fact that not all depression causes lack of school performance, rather that it is possible that they are correlated, not in causation of each other. Along with this, Humensky found that with regard to concentrating on or completing homework, no covariates were significant. Higher levels of depressive symptoms were strongly associated with higher levels of loss of concentrating or completing homework. However, Humensky found that increased depressive symptoms are associated with measures of impaired school performance. With her statistics juxtaposing each other, the validity of her statements waver.

Nevertheless, the study conducted by Jaycox et. al. found that patients who participated in the longitudinal study of teens with and without depression, a total of 4856 teens completed full screening assessments; 4713 in which were eligible for the study, and 187 criteria for depression and were asked to participate along with teens who were not depressed. A total of 184 assessments for teens with depression, and 184 for nondepressed teens were completed. There were 339 parent interviews of the teenagers who were being screened. Follow-up interviews were conducted with 328 teens, and 302 parents. Measures included teen reports of peer and parent support, 2 measures of school functioning, grades, physical health, and days of impairment. Parent reports included peer, school, and family functioning along with burdens on parents. The results came to that depressed teens reported significantly more problems in nearly all aspects of physical side effects versus the teenagers who were not depressed. Their findings came to the conclusion that students who were depressed had twice as many days suffering from the side effects of depression; these findings show the direct effects of depression on teenagers.

These statements allow for a broader perspective to be taken in the effects of depression and how it affects the learning of teenagers. They also allow for both the limitations and the successes of the studies be evaluated, to allow for a broader idea on how they connect to teenage performance in school. 

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