The Biology and Pharmacology of Depression

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CE Credit: 2

Length: 1 hour

Exam Items: 20

Depression is the outcome of stressful experiences and biological predispositions, including genetics. Many genes evidently contribute to the predisposition. Psychotherapy and various medications are used for treating depression. The medications have rapid effects on serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine synapses, but the benefits occur more slowly, presumably dependent on other mechanisms. A likely hypothesis is that the benefits depend on neurotrophins that promote growth and connections among neurons. Of all the people diagnosed with major depression, nearly one-third would recover on their own within several months. Psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy are about equally helpful to the others, increasing the percentage in recovery to more than one-half. Nevertheless, a substantial number of people with depression do not respond readily to either kind of treatment.

Learning Objective 1
Explain why researchers must consider the episodic nature of depression when they evaluate the effectiveness of any type of therapy.

Learning Objective 2
Describe several classes of antidepressant medications and state why their time course calls for an explanation that goes beyond the immediate effects at serotonin and dopamine synapses.

Learning Objective 3 
Describe the relative effectiveness of psychotherapy and pharmacology in the treatment of depression.

Presenter: James Kalat, PhD

James Kalat is Professor of Psychology at North Carolina State University. He received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971, with research on taste-aversion learning. He is the author of Introduction to Psychology, editions 1 through 9, and Biological Psychology, editions 1 through 10. He is co-author with Michelle Shiota of Emotion. All three textbooks are published by Wadsworth. Kalat is a remarried widower with three children and two stepsons.