It’s just something inside my head

A remarkably accurate account of the learned helplessness theory of depression as recounted in the lyrics of downbeat hip-hop track ‘Something Inside My Head’ by London based rapper Akala.

I wasn’t born this way
My condition was learned
Once bitten twice shy I don’t wanna be burned
When you travel a passage
That leaves your heart ravaged
Your mind waxes placid to limit the damage
Your reaction is passive
Whether you like it or not
You cannot win whether you fight it or not
Your brain swallows the pain and buries it instead
Now.. It’s just something inside my head

Link to audio on YouTube.
Link to lyrics.


  1. Posted February 12, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    I can see how people can learn helplessness – but you end up helpless, not depressed. The solution has to be to realise you can do something, learn some things to do, then do them. Surely more effective and practical than therapy or drugs?

    • Johannes Bathelt
      Posted February 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      @ Richmonde: That is not the point of learned helplessness. It is actually derived from animal models of depression. Depression-like symptoms can be induced in rats by stressing them randomly, e.g. delivering foot shocks at random intervals. It is sometimes interpreted that learned helplessness derives from the feeling of absence of control over the situation.
      That links to neurophysiological explanations that see the cause of depression as an adaptation to prolonged stress (HPA axis shows alterations in noradrenaline that could be mediated by serotonin + additional changes in the dopaminergic mesocorticolimbic “reward” system).
      Together, these changes would make it very difficult to just start and do something about it. It would require a massive relearning and restructuring process. This is in my view and according to the literature best guided by cognitive therapy and can be aided by antidepressant that increase plasticity (like SSRIs).
      Castrén (2005): “Is mood chemistry?” Nat.Rev.Neurosc.6(3)
      DeRubeis (2008): “Cognitive therapy vs. medications for depression: Treatment outcomes and neural mechanisms” Nat.Rev.Neurosc.9(10)

  2. Posted February 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Richmonde, that’s an interesting point– I wonder if it takes self-denigration (I’m a bad person for not doing the things I’m feeling helpless about) in addition to learned helplessness to create depression.

  3. Posted February 12, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Is it depression? Or unhappiness about things you lack, or that afflict you?

  4. cavall de quer
    Posted February 13, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Anyone who has read Peterson, Maier and Seligman on “Learned Helplessness” will probably be depressed by the hideous cruelty of the experiments and the ruthlessness of the humans involved: surely the two concepts are intimately related; but, on the anecdotal front, has anyone else noticed that, in humans, humiliation is often involved in depression?

    • Johannes Bathelt
      Posted February 13, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      There is an evolutionary account for depression that states that depression arises, because the individual can’t hold its place in the social hierarchy, is isolated or is constantly stressed, because it struggles to keep the keep the place.
      That has interesting implications for the animal models, because from that point one would assume that only very social animals could develop something like human depression. That would shed doubt on the validity of rodent models.
      see Nesse (2000):”Is depression adaptive?” Archives of General Psychiatry 57(14)

      • Posted February 13, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        Rats are social animals. I don’t know what would be a sufficiently intelligent but non-social animal to study.

      • Johannes Bathelt
        Posted February 13, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        They are social to some degree, but their social system is not as elaborate as the hierarchies found in non-human primates. If depression is product of those complex social interaction, which also reflects in how their brain processes certain information, then the validity of the rodent models is questionable. That is of course a general concern in animal models, but especially for human disorders in the affective system.

  5. D
    Posted February 15, 2011 at 4:14 am | Permalink

    I recognise certain traits in myself that mentioned above, but both the continued disscusion and the wikipedia page leave me totally confused.
    Are there any decent resorces that can be pointed to that are not technically baffling?

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