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Storing our negative memories can cause depression

New research published last week unveiled a “potentially revolutionary way” of treating some forms of depression, writes Dr Bob Murray.

According to research done on mice, physical manifestations of negative memories created in the hippocampus (the memory center of the brain) could underlie cognitive symptoms of depression.

The research, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, showed that inhibiting these manifestations could be a future treatment route.

Groups of neurons that are activated after an experience are thought to be the physical representation of memory. These so-called “engrams” in the hippocampus could be involved in depression, one of whose symptoms is impaired recall of positive memories and increased recall of negative memories.

In a mouse model of depression, the researchers tagged the engrams that formed after mice experienced social stress and examined their social avoidance behaviour. Even though all the mice studied experienced the same stressor, only some displayed depression-like behaviors, indicating a predisposition to developing the illness.

The depression-prone mice displayed higher concentrations of engram cells compared to the less susceptible mice, and the density of the cells correlated with their level of social avoidance behavior. Activating the engram cells increased social avoidance behavior while suppressing the cells decreased it, suggesting a role in the cognitive symptoms of depression.

So, what? I have been working with the Law Society of New South Wales for the last few months looking at options for their mental health outreach program. And this research throws considerable light on how the kind of work sections of the legal profession and others such as police, firefighters, military personnel, HR professionals – especially those who must tell people they are being dismissed – permanently sets people up for depression.

Many of the lawyers I talked to, as well as the members of the other professions, are all obliged to look at or work with extremely upsetting situations or images – child abuse, crime scenes, murder, war – which, as this research shows, would build up the physical manifestations of those memories blocking pleasant memory recall and thus causing depression.

My belief from our own research is that over 50 per cent of the members of law and the other professions mentioned are clinically depressed or anxious. This research may explain why.

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy

Jerome Doraisamy is a senior writer for Lawyers Weekly and Wellness Daily at Momentum Media.

Before joining the team in early 2018, Jerome is admitted as a solicitor in New South Wales and, prior to joining the team in early 2018, he worked in both commercial and governmental legal roles and has worked as a public speaker and consultant to law firms, universities and high schools across the country and internationally. He is also the author of The Wellness Doctrines self-help book series and is an adjunct lecturer at The University of Western Australia.

Jerome graduated from the University of Technology, Sydney with a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Social Inquiry).

You can email Jerome at: [email protected] 

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain