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Transcript: Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky on Depression in U.S. (Full Lecture)

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Robert Sapolsky

Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky discusses Depression in U.S. In this lecture, the entertaining Stanford lecturer dives into the biological and psychological aspect of the ‘most damaging disease’. Below is the full transcript.

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Okay. There are all sorts of interesting diseases out there and lots of them are quite exotic. You’ve got elephant man syndrome. And you’ve got Progeria, which is a disease where you basically die of old age when you’re about 10 years old. And then you’ve got cannibals eating brains and getting prion diseases. And those are very exciting and they’re great, and great, junior high school papers about disease and such.

Oh no, okay, come up to the front. There’s lots of room up here. I see a couple more seats up here.

So there are all sorts of these great made for TV movie diseases out there. But when you want to come to basic meat and potatoes of human medical misery, there is nothing out there like depression. Depression is absolutely crippling. Depression is incredibly pervasive, and thus important to talk about.

I’ll make the argument here today, a number of things, but one critical thing being that basically depression is like the worst disease you can get. And I’ll make the argument for that in a bit. It is devastating. It is wildly common. Current estimate are 15% of us in this room will have a major depression at some point or other in our lives. So that is not good.

What is also clear is it is worldwide. Currently, World Health Organization says depression is the number four cause of disability on this planet. And by the year 2025 it’s going to number two, after obesity, diabetes-related disorders. So it is bad news. And it is becoming more common.

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Okay. So what I’m going to talk about today are seemingly two very, very different topics, and tie them together at the end. And what the main is, is if you live inside only one of those topics, you’re not going to understand this disease at all: First topic being what does biology have to do with depression? Second topic being, what does psychology have to do with it?

Okay. So starting off, first giving a sense of symptoms. And right off the bat, we’ve got a sematic problem, which is we all use the word depression in an everyday sense. You get some bad news about something. You now have to replace the transmission in your car. Somebody disappoints you enormously. And you feel bummed. You feel depressed. You are down for a few days. That’s not the version of depression I’ll be talking about.

Next version, you do have some sort of large, legitimate loss, setback, whatever, losing a job, unemployment, death of a loved one. And you are extremely impaired by a sense of malaise for weeks afterward. And then you come out the other end. That’s sort of what I’ll be talking about.

But even more so what I’ll focus on is the subset of individuals who, when something like that occurs, falls into this depressive state. And weeks and months later, they still have not come out the other end.

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