There has been great debate about such maladies as Depression and Anxiety and whether they represent what some term a 'chemical imbalance' and what others say are simply natural reactions to life's events. The crux of the issue really comes down to a nature vs. nurture argument. In this article I explore both sides of the debate and hopefully shed some light on the issue.
Nature: Chemical Imbalance
There is no question that our emotions are in effect complex chemical, electrical and neurological processes that occur within our brain. According to those who support the "nurture" argument, depression, it is theorized is due to among other things, low amounts of certain neurotransmitters such as Serotonin, Dopamine and Norepinephrine in the brain.
The difficulty though lies in figuring out if this should be termed an 'imbalance' or not. Those that believe that this is the case believe that whether through genetics or through long periods of time in unhealthy situations that a person's brain can get 'stuck' in a state where it is simply not making enough of these neurotransmitters to provide for a stable, positive emotional state.
Nurture: Reaction To Life's Events
The opposing side doesn't dispute that our emotions are chemically, electrically and neurologically based but believes that all emotions are simply the brain's reaction to outside events regardless of the severity or consistency of the depression/anxiety. If a person tells a joke and the other person 'laughs', technically a 'chemical imbalance' occurs in that person to cause the person to laugh. This is the same with depression. If you are in an unhappy/uncomfortable situation in your life for long enough, you will simply become depressed until that time when the situation is resolved. The Nurture side does not believe that genetics causes one to be depressed and that it is strictly a result of your life's experiences or a situation you are in that is causing it.
Both and Neither
The truth probably lies somewhere in between. If you read over enough of the literature you tend to see that there are two camps to this issue. The vast majority of people that suffer depression or anxiety are going through an episode that is transitory in nature and that is usually caused by an obviously identifiable situation or occurrence in their life. By fixing the issue involved, this transitory emotional 'effect' as it were, is resolved and the person goes on with their life.
There is a subgroup however that genetically probably has a tendency towards depression or anxiety more than others. While certain conditions need to be present and the environment that one is brought up in can certainly exacerbate or minimize the condition, it is 'easier' to become depressed/anxious than in someone without the propensity to trigger anxious or depressive states.
The question then becomes; Is this really an imbalance? Well, to be honest the word 'imbalance' is not really the correct word. What we are talking about is a situation where the brain, whether due to genetic/developmental propensity, or through the effect of outside events, is not producing enough serotonin and other neurotransmitters to make the person feel good. Since scientists and doctors are not really sure what the correct amounts/ratios etc are and have not clearly what the vast majority of neurotransmitters actually do, it is hard to make the argument that there is an 'imbalance'. The word 'imbalance' itself implies that there is a correct 'balance' and this is simply unknown and not provable. Try asking your doctor to give you a test to see if your Serotonin is 'balanced' or not and he'll look at you cockeyed because no such test exists.
The honest solution is that for most people the first course of action should be to sit down with someone that can help delve into the person's life issues and figure out if there is anything causing the depressive or anxious feelings. Often there are 'long-term' or 'big-picture' situations such as a dysfunctional family unit, abusive or emotionally removed parents, etc that might not be obvious causes of a person's emotional problems and that caused underlying development of a person to go askew for years. Identifying the cause of anxiety or depression isn't always as obvious as a person being in a bad job or a bad relationship.
Once identified, however, with the right therapy, education and introspection, it is possible to take control of your emotions instead of letting your emotions control you. This is what self-awareness is all about. There is a place for medication but only in the most extreme cases, such as suicidal behavior, and even then only as a short-term way of getting someone into therapy. Studies have shown that long term, drugs alone are rarely effective and much of it is the placebo effect. For more great insight and articles and how to become Self Aware please visit SelfAwareness101.com