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The mouse “hikikomori” helped to understand the nature of depression in humans

The mouse "hikikomori" helped to understand the nature of depression in humans
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Mankind faced depression a long time ago, it just had other names. Since the 3rd century A.D. in Christianity, discouragement is one of the eight major sins. Later in the Roman Catholic tradition, it became one of the seven sins of mortals.

They were introduced into widespread church use by the “last good pope” Gregory the Great, putting despondency in this list above the sins of the flesh. Today modern medicine calls this condition depression and offers both psychological and biochemical ways to deal with it.




Getting a person out of depression now, as it was a thousand years ago, is not such an easy task. There are various available treatments, but all they are time consuming. Therefore, people living in the age of speed rarely seek help.

However, according to the official figures of the World Health Organization, today more than 260 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In addition, depression is recognized as the leading cause of disability in the world – a very serious challenge to the social and health system. This mental illness also has a gender aspect: most often women suffer from it, less often men.




In past centuries, the church, of course, did not possess modern technology, but it perfectly understood the severe social, psychological and economic consequences of depression for society. Psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy in our understanding did not exist then.

But the idea of ​​despondency as a mortal sin, the strictest prohibition and the methods of “working” with it by the holy fathers in that cultural reality were quite an effective way to help people in a depressed state. John Climacus wrote, “Despondency is a relaxation of the soul, exhaustion of the mind… a slander of God, as if He were merciless and inhuman” (Ladder 13: 2).




It was assumed that from such terrible prospects, a religious person should have blown away depression like the wind. Moreover, it was necessary to clearly distinguish between grief (frustration, for example, from an unfulfilled desire) from despondency (depression). The first psychology considers a necessary condition for the development of a human personality, the formation of skills for solving everyday problems and tasks.

The second state is fundamentally different – a person gives up, he sees despair and pain everywhere and in everything, no matter how hard you try, there is no way out from a trap. The church reminded the depressed that hopelessness is not an objective property of the world, but a temporary test sent by God. Today, biochemistry is also involved in the study of what depression really is.




Not so long ago, the Daily Mail published an article about the experiments of a group of Japanese scientists led by Akiyoshi Saito on mice. It turned out that, like humans, animals are also susceptible to this mental disorder. Moreover, the same antidepressants that are prescribed to a person help to bring them out of this state.

Most interesting, however, is that scientists have found a link between depression and empathy. That is, now it is worth pondering the question: is the state of despondency a pathology of empathy? The Japanese discovered it by observing the mouse, which itself was safe, but could constantly see how its stronger relative was bullying the weaker one in the neighboring cage.




Feeling sympathetic to its suffering, the experimental mouse experienced great stress and eventually fell into severe depression. After 10 days of observing the “lawlessness”, it developed anhedonia – an emotional state in which the craving for pleasure disappears.

The mouse lost its previous interest in its favorite delicacy – sweetened water, and also began to avoid communicating with its own kind. Their behavior reminded Akiyoshi Saito of hikikomori – Japanese adolescents who have a pathological fear of the adult world, refusing to leave their parental home and contact other people.




In mice that had lost their “faith in humanity”, Akiyoshi Saito discovered physiological changes in the hippocampus, which led to impaired memory and sensory perception of the world. He tried to cure them with the well-known drug Prozac, which helps maintain the “joy hormone” serotonin in the body at an optimal level.

But it gave only a temporary effect – the symptoms of depression returned after a couple of weeks. That is, in order to restore a normal psychophysiological state, antidepressants alone are not enough. We’ll have to go to a professional psychotherapist or, in the old fashioned way, to a priest.

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