EBT, the clinical method for achieving optimal brain-based health, offers conferences for researchers and clinicians. Resetting our own brain to optimize our health based on circuits, set points, emotional techniques, and the skills to reconsolidate (erase) ineffective circuits takes focused learning as most health professionals were raised and trained in a pre-BBH world.
During a three-day conference on the method at UCSF, Stuart Eisendrath, MD, psychiatry professor and then-director of the Depression Center said, "Depression is the number one cause of morbidity worldwide."
It was around that time that a meta-analysis of studies of depression determined that stressful life events, not genetics, caused depression, which was followed by another meta-analysis that concluded that genetics did play a role, but the stress of adverse early life events, health problems, and, to a lesser degree, situational stress, impacted gene expression. Yet another study pointed out the complexity of the research and pointed out the need for further study.
We can – and must – do better
Looking through the lens of BBH, this entire academic exchange looks quite different. The reductionist process of research is part of the pre-BBH world of medical science. It helps in discovering esoteric pathways or circuits that cause chemical and electrical problems. Often this research leads to drug treatments that can help but that take our attention away from a modifiable cause of the problem: our circuitry. We live in America. Americans (at least until now) take pills to treat the symptoms of problems. We even try to convince ourselves that drugs solve the problem, but depression is not caused by an antidepressant deficiency.
In fact, a review by Harvard researchers concluded that most of the benefits of antidepressants were due to the placebo effect. In fact, they reported that "instead of curing depression, popular antidepressants may induce a biological vulnerability, making people more likely to become depressed in the future." Although most medications help at least some people, perhaps a more accurate general term for these drugs is "placebo pills for depression."
A fresh, brain-based look at depression
Getting back to the basics of BBH, all severe non-infectious diseases, including depression, are symptoms of a set point in stress ("high allostatic load"). How could that be? A friend was walking along the street in San Francisco and a car came along and hit her. She went to the hospital to treat her physical stress of a broken bone and various other hurts, but even then, that stress traveled along a two-way road back and forth from the brain.
That's how allostasis works! It's an amplification of stress from the body and brain. And, with each ramp-up from stress in the body, there's a ramp-up of stress and a strengthening of Stress Circuits in the brain. Her allostatic load increased, and with all that chronic stress, she's likely to develop one emotional health problem or another, including depression. The accident fed and nourished her Stress Circuits, and as they have no shut-off valves, she is now in chronic stress that causes a pile-up of problems.
The problem is the strength and dominance of our stress circuitry. We did not know that we could change this circuitry until 2010. Nor did we know, prior to 2007, that emotional tools could spiral us up out of a stuck, negative, powerless mood into feeling good or great in one to four minutes. It's the emotional tools (unlike awareness, mindfulness, positive self-talk, or insights) that get us onto our natural resiliency pathways quickly. Curing depression is not a quick fix, as the brain needs to learn the habit of resilience and to embrace positive emotions, like love and joy. Research has shown that depression is a failure of self-regulation leading to a "joy deficient" state, and all the resulting stress lowers our set point and makes Stress Circuits the central controllers of our moods and our health.
We need skills to shut off those horrible stress wires in real-time and to do more intensive work with the same tools to rewire circuits that lower our set point. But as depression is a joy deficient – and love insufficient – state, we need to flood our brain repeatedly with the chemicals of love and joy. In short, we need people. That is why psychotherapy can be helpful. Bringing together a small self-help group to use the tools can work, and anonymous groups with the support of providers is part of the BBH support. Spiraling up to Brain State 1 delivers dopamine and endorphins, but it is using them in loving connection that delivers the oxytocin and vasopressin that cause us to feel that warm glow we need and wipes out the inherent despair and loss of hope that are at the heart of depression.
Healing chemical surges of love and joy
We are at the beginning of the golden age of emotional plasticity. Sure, we need to know more about how to use self-directed rewiring of faulty circuits. Yet the medical traditions favor rolling along with pre-neuroscience methods. All that talent and all that hard work and all those resources! This natural, self-directed approach to health is completely antithetical to traditional medical practices. We are perfectly capable of doing it ourselves. We can change our own chemicals. We can unleash healing chemicals with no limitations on dose and no unwanted side effects. Sure, we have a provider for coaching or groups, if we like, but that person helps us learn the tools faster and more easily. With the tools, we can get to Brain State 1 and be a therapist to the nicest person in town – to ourselves.
It will take a revolution in healthcare to stop over-diagnosing and over-medicating these common problems for which the modifiable root cause is faulty stress wiring. That is why BBH is a movement. In the age of the internet in which we listen to our healthcare professionals, but do a few searches of our own, we are self-reliant in taking care of our health. BBH is like that, except it takes self-reliance to a new level: it changes our electrical flow, chemical cascades, and ultimately, enables us to feel like eating healthy, exercising regularly, sleeping well, getting off the couch, going out into the world, and making our mark, giving back in just the way that completes our life.
Pre-BBH healthcare can be very important to curing depression, as taking care of overall health decreases stress and if that depression caused us to be locked up in a persistent Brain State 5 with major depressive disorder, we need all the medical care we can get. However, the role of medicine is not to cure depression. What cures depression is to build inside our own brain a stockpile of resilience circuits. In order to do that ("self-directed neuroplasticity"), our prefrontal cortex, which masterminds building these new, beautiful circuits, must be at Brain State 4 or above. Once it is, we can start knocking out those Stress Circuits and replacing them with Joy Circuits.
Depression is a calling card from evolutionary biology, as it sends us negative moods and stress symptoms to request that we do something to get our love and joy back. Personally, the first few calling cards from evolutionary biology I get, I often ignore . . . until the messages become strong enough to get my attention!
If you have struggled with depression and are taking medications, continue to take them, and continue to consult with your physician and access a relationship with a psychotherapist. However, by using BBH as a new resource, learning the skills, and becoming part of a small group, you will deliver to your own brain the repeated spurts of the chemicals of love and joy.
So, what is the prescription for depression? Access all the traditional healthcare you need, then add BBH to the mix. Enjoy your first experiences as you play with the tools and keep at it to rewire circuits and raise your set point. Your brain will become highly resilient and discover a new habit – the habit of love and joy.
That is a solution!