Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky Demystifies Depression

We know that depression affects people from all walks of life. Rich. Poor. Celebs. Ordinary Joes. Young. Old. But, somehow after the death of Robin Williams, there’s a renewed focus on depression, and my mind turned immediately to a lecture we featured on the site way back in 2009. The lecture is by Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford biologist, who has a talent for making scientific subjects publicly accessible. A recipient of the MacArthur genius grant, Sapolsky notes that depression — currently the 4th greatest cause of disability worldwide, and soon the 2nd — is deeply biological. Depression is rooted in biology, much as is, say, diabetes. As the lecture unfolds, you will see how depression changes the body. When depressed, our brains function differently while sleeping, our stress response goes way up 24/7, our biochemistry levels change, etc. You will see that biology is at work.

Sapolsky is one compelling teacher. So you might not want to miss his Stanford course, Introduction to Human Biology. It’s equally worth your time. You can always find it housed in our collection of 1,000 Free Courses Online.


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  1. Michelle says . . . | August 13, 2014 / 1:19 pm

    excellent – thank you for posting

  2. James Bruce says . . . | August 14, 2014 / 4:13 pm

    Some of the most gifted people in the world struggled with depression. We know of Robin Williams, but one of the most treasured impressionists in the world did when they had no medication of any sort. His name was Vincent Van Gogh!

  3. Camelia says . . . | January 18, 2015 / 1:33 pm
  4. Micky DuPree says . . . | January 19, 2015 / 4:05 am

    Obviously there’s a genetic predisposition to depression and bipolar disorder, but there’s an environmental dimension too. The modern world and its media have medicalized and personalized sociopolitical problems so as to relieve the powerful of responsibility for the effects of their decisions on others. Therefore you’re not depressed because your job was outsourced. You’re depressed because your biology is faulty.

  5. Will says . . . | January 19, 2015 / 11:09 am

    A tremendously comprehensive over-view of the psycho-biology of Major Depression.

    I’m somewhat mystified however on one point; are you saying that only loss-of-weight and avoiding adequate nourishment is the key criteria for Major Depression? Or can overeating and obesity be criteria as well. I am a clinician and have see both considerable loss of weight AND considerable gain of weight presenting in sessions with my patients who suffer from MDD. Did I misunderstand or can you clarify this point.

    Thank you for your extraordinarily-honed lecture, Professor Sapolsky.


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