Environmental Laboratory

How Does Our Environment Make Us Happy?

Apr 19 2016 Comments 0

A new study conducted by researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has cast doubt on the idea that some people are genetically predisposed to depression, suggesting instead that our environment may play a more pivotal role than previously imagined.

By testing lab rats which had been genetically bred for depression for generations with an animal equivalent of psychotherapy, the study concluded that the signs of depressive behaviour were heavily influenced by their environment. Such revelations give hope to the idea that even those with a history of depression in their family can receive successful treatment.

Cheering Up Depressed Lab Rats

The study , which was published at the end of last month in Translational Psychiatry (a journal in Nature), examined a batch of test rats which had been genetically bred to harbour symptoms of depression for 33 generations.

“You don’t have people who are completely genetically predisposed to depression the way the rats were,” explained Eva Redei, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences and lead author on the study. “If you can modify depression in these rats, you most certainly should be able to do it in humans.”

The team tested their ability to alter the rats’ moods by improving their environment. They placed the depressed rats in larger containers filled with obstacles, activities and chewing toys for one month. After the month was up, the rats were then placed in a tank filled with water.

Rats who had not been exposed to the improved environment simply floated on the surface, not exhibiting any survival instincts and displaying depressive behaviour. However, those who had received the “psychotherapy” treatment frantically looked for an escape route, betraying their improved mental states. Conversely, non-depressed rats who were exposed to stressful experiences immediately prior to being placed in the tank also did not attempt to save themselves.

Furthermore, the blood markers in the both sets of rats changed from depressed levels to non-depressed levels and vice versa, thus highlighting a clear link between environment and depression.

What this Means for Humans

The study represents good news for those sufferers of depression who believe they are genetically predisposed to the condition and who had despaired of ever receiving effective treatment. It’s now thought than improved environment, in conjunction with the correct course of pharmaceutical prescriptions, could do much to alleviate suffering.

It’s already been ascertained that an unpleasant environment can lead to feelings of despondency and depression. As well as establishing clear links between noise pollution and increased anxiety and depression levels, scientific studies have also shown that poor air quality and heightened stress levels (which often go hand-in-hand with living in a big city) are significant factors in augmenting depression.

This latest study provides hope that a change in environment – along with accurate prognosis – could work to minimise the effects of depression for millions of humans across Britain and further afield.

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