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Biological Approach to Depression

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Outline and evaluate the Biological Approach to Depression
According to the biological approach all psychological illnesses have a physical cause; it focus is on the treatment not the cure this can support the reason why relapse rates are high for individuals with depression. The biological approach to abnormality states that abnormality is caused by a range of different physical factors: Genetics and chemical imbalances in the brain. It is suggested that people possess certain genetic characteristics that make them more prone to developing abnormal behaviour such as depression. It is also thought that chemical imbalances in the brain produce abnormal behaviour, for example a lack of serotonin causes depression. This approach is better at explaining endogenous depression. Family, twin and adoption studies are used to research into depression. Supporting evidence for the biological approach is that depression is universal, as they are increasing and found cross culturally.
Weismann (1987) stated that family evidence suggests that a person is 10 times more likely to suffer from depression, if a parent or sibling has a similar disorder. This could be because living with a person who is depressed could be depressing. However, according to a behavioural explanation this behaviour could have being modelled as the female could identify with the eating disorder and use them as a role model. Also family studies are conducted using retrospective data (looking back) and rely on correct and accurate diagnosis and records which aren’t always reliable. This could be because older generations may not have being diagnosed with an eating disorder because there was a stigma attached and didn’t seek the help they needed.
Mc Guffin et al (1996) conducted an experiment based on nearly 200 pairs of twins found that when an identical twin had depression. There was a 46% chance that the other twin would also have the disorder and results for non identical twins were 20%. However, twin studies pose a number of problems. On the fact of it they suggest a genetic cause. The more genes people share the more likely they are to share the characteristic. One firm conclusion we can draw of course is that anorexia is not entirely genetic otherwise there would be 100% concordance in identical twins. So even if there is a genetic component other factors must also be at work, such as the behaviour being modelled through vicarious reinforcement, according to the behavioural approach. The major problem is in ruling out environmental factors. Not only do twins share the same genes they also share very similar environments. Twins are often dressed similarly, have the same friends, same interests, same social class and environment. However, ID twins are always the same sex, unlike non-ID twins that can be brother and sister. This last factor is particularly relevant when considering eating disorders because of their much greater prevalence in girls. When considering genetic causation it is also worth mentioning that the effect may not be direct. Perhaps genes are influencing a characteristic which in turn is increasing the risk of eating disorders. For example, as we’ll see with the cognitive model, many anorexics have perfectionist personality traits and there is evidence to suggest that this personality type is itself genetic. The data on much of the genetics research is from clinic samples, which are obviously not representative of the general population, particularly because such samples tend to be quite small because of the difficulty of finding twins where one or both have an eating disorder, which means that population validity is limited.
Harrington et al (1993) compared people who have being adopted with their biological and adopted parents. He found that up to 20% of those relatives suffered from the disorder compared with 5-10% of their adoptive relatives. In conclusion this shows a higher rate of depression in their biological parents compared to adopted parents. However, these are not representive groups as they have given their child up for adoption which could be linked to depression. If the biological parents gave their child up for adoption due to depression then there would be depression in the family history. Also you need to know the need to know the age the child was adopted as the behavior could have being modelled according to a behavioral approach.
The biological approach also states that the depression could be due to an imbalance of chemicals. It suggests that in depression serotonin levels are low which could have being inherited. This is supported by the success of Prozac and other anti-depressants which increase serotonin. However, this could be a placebo effect where the cognitive approach states the individual thinks they are feeling better because they are taking the drugs.
The endocrine system and depression suggests a link between chemical imbalances/ bodily changes and depression. The female menstrual cycle involves changes in the level of oestrogen and progesterone over the monthly cycle. The week or two prior to the menstruation some women become irritable, gain mood swings, decreased concentration and depression. This is linked to changes related to hormonal fluctuations.
This is supported by Abranowitz et al (1982) studied female admissions to one psychiatric hospital and found 41% entered on the day before or on the first day off their menstrual period. However, this could have being because of the stress of the admission which can affect the period cycle. Also not every individual would be admitted into a psychiatric hospital with depression, you need to know what the disorder they had. The women on the pill wouldn't be accounted for.
The strengths of the biological approach is that it decreases the stigma associated with labeling someone as ‘abnormal’ because it is thought that the abnormality is not the fault of the individual, it is merely down to chance and luck. This means that people who suffer with depression are now more widely accepted and they are able to lead easier lives. Also it a very scientific approach to abnormality and allows research to be undertaken which can prove or disprove theories of what causes depression. However, it gives the person diminished responsibility for their own wellbeing as they put their trust in the doctors and other professionals to look after their best interests. Also it is unclear whether chemical imbalances in the brain are the cause of the depression or symptoms of it. The biological approach is reductionist because it assumes that humans are merely biological and that all of our thought processes occur due to chemicals and innate programming, it doesn’t take into account other approaches view points.

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