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Inside the Blue Book
Understanding Depression

PSYC 356b
Faculty: Kristi Lockhart, Lecturer in Psychology

When Kristi Lockhart began teaching psychology, she was amazed at how many of her students experienced depression. “The rate seemed so much higher than when I was an undergraduate at Pomona College,” Lockhart says. This discovery led her to teach a course in depression, which she has now done for 14 years—first at Cornell and for the past three years at Yale.

Some psychologists say that the increase in depression has occurred because pharmaceutical companies have finally found a way to create a demand for antidepressants. But most psychologists believe the increased depression is real—brought about by social changes taking place in American culture, such as a general shift from focus on community to focus on the individual. “The media now allow us to compare ourselves to the whole world,” Lockhart says, “and we don’t have the same strong social networks of family and religion to help us when we don’t live up to our expectations.”

The class explores biological, psychological, and sociocultural approaches to depression. Students are also introduced to issues of current interest to psychologists, such as why women are twice as likely as men to have a depressive disorder. Some researchers believe that men distract themselves to cut off initial sadness by drinking or playing sports, while women ruminate. Now, though, the sex difference is disappearing, perhaps because both men and women are beginning to feel more comfortable seeking help. Another issue under study involves age and depression. Young children, for example, have a low incidence of depression. “Children are very optimistic about their futures,” Lockhart says, “however unrealistic those visions may be.”

Most of the 30 students in the seminar are psychology majors, and many enroll in the class after having had their interest piqued by some experience with depression, either with family, friends, or themselves. “This course itself,” Lockhart says, “is not therapy.” What the course does is to instill a sense of hopefulness. While there may be no cure for depression, the variety of treatments, with fewer side effects and longer-lasting benefits than ever before, continues to grow.  the end


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