Is Depression in Nonhuman Animals Naturally Occurring or Human Caused?

Is Depression in Nonhuman Animals Naturally Occurring or Human Caused?

Contributed by Marielle Grenade-Willis

Earlier this year, the American Psychological Association reaffirmed its stance that scientific research on nonhuman animals has been imperative to the preservation of psychological well-being in humans. What remains to be seen, however, is how emotional conditions such as depression can be measured in nonhuman animals, and if so, to what degree is the mental state induced by manipulated living conditions controlled by experimenters, or by naturally occurring experiences in the wild.

According to Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania, Olivier Berton, the issue is that “many lab studies in primates and rodents are conducted in captive animals that are raised in relatively impoverished conditions compared to their natural habitat. This can cause depression-like changes. Currently, there is not a lot of data available that compares animal emotional behaviors in the wild versus in laboratory setting.” To add insult to injury, the kinds of perpetuated anguish inflicted upon nonhuman animals in the name of trying to find a cure for mental health disorders, is rife with ethical issues concerning nonhuman animals. Is it right for us as humans to inflict stressful experiences such as “near-drowning, repeated shocks, and strobe lights” on a rodent for our own fix-it-all pill?

Depression is by no means an ailment that can be understood in a unidimensional framework, and there are multiple theories as to its root cause. Perhaps a parallel and similar understanding can be applied for its existence in nonhuman animals, especially mammals. Psychologist Jonathan Rottenberg does in fact believe that nonhuman animals can experience depression in both its biological and physiological manifestations. He states that its effect on mood, immunity, and circadian rhythm can be just as severe and debilitating as humans experience. Questions about depression in nonhuman animals are still forthcoming as we try to understand the emotional capabilities of our fellow beings in the context of their existence, and not necessarily based on how we feel.