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Home » Examining Depression Through The Lens of The Brain: Dr. Helen Mayberg (Transcript) 

Examining Depression Through The Lens of The Brain: Dr. Helen Mayberg (Transcript) 

Here is the full transcript of Dr. Helen Mayberg’s talk titled “Examining Depression Through The Lens of The Brain” at TEDxEmory conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


Understanding Depression

So, what I’d like everyone to do is just close their eyes because I think this morning, inspired by all the other speakers, I’d like to actually put us all in a first-person perspective on the topic that I’m going to be discussing, which is depression. And I want to start by having you just listen to depression.

[Video clip: I was pretty convinced that I was going to die, that there was nothing left for me. My life had completely closed in. I had no other choices, really, clinically. My own psychiatrist said basically there was nothing left to do.]

So, just imagine that that’s the sound of a malignant depression. If you’ve ever been depressed, you might think that, well, that doesn’t sound any different from the state that any depressed person gets in, except you usually come out of it. That’s the sound of a 37-year-old man, a son, a partner, a valuable employee, a cyclist, a competitive cyclist, who actually had become depressed. Not the first, not the second episode he’d ever had, but he got stuck and he couldn’t get out.

He had stopped responding to multiple medications. Psychotherapy was essentially worthless. He had even failed multiple courses of electroconvulsive shock therapy. So the question is what happens when you are so low, so stuck, so unable to get out of the hole that basically nothing is left for you? Think about it. The question is what is the neurologist standing here in front of you telling you about it?

The Neurological Perspective on Depression

What’s the point of a neurologist in this story? Well, what you heard is when the brain fails to be able to adapt to circumstance, to the situation, when it breaks. And the question is that’s what neurologists study. That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out. And I’m going to tell you the story of how we look at depression through the lens of the brain, but from and listening to the first-person perspective of those patients to understand what goes wrong and how do we fix it.

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