The Human Equation

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Three Things You (Probably) Don't Know About Depression

New research sheds light on depression.

One of the great things about writing psychology books is that I can justify spending hours and hours reading about the latest research studies and trying to figure out what they mean to a) those of us trying to help sufferers get well and b) mental health consumers who need to stay well-informed so they can make sure they get the best possible treatment. 

In that spirit, here are three findings from recent research studies and my take on what they might mean.

1.  A 2010 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine reported a correlation between depression and chocolate; as depression scores rose, so did the amount of chocolate research subjects consumed each month.   

  • So what?  This study was cross-sectional, meaning it can’t tell us if chocolate contributes to depression or is eaten in an attempt to feel better although anecdotal accounts support the latter.  If true, it’s possible that intense chocolate cravings – especially during times of stress – may signal the onset of depression

2.  A 2010 study from Rhode Island Hospital found that, when asked specifically about them via a self-report questionnaire, patients reported 20 times more side effects from their medication than had been recorded in their charts by their psychiatrists.  Furthermore, the only side effective physicians routinely asked about was sexual dysfunction.

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  • So what?  There are many antidepressants that provide similar therapeutic benefit but may cause different side effects in different individuals; in fact, it’s pretty common for a person to try two or three antidepressants before finding the magical combination of low side effects and good treatment response.   If you’re starting an antidepressant, do your own research into the possible side effects, keep track of any you experience (don’t wait for your doctor to ask you), and always discuss them with your doctor before discontinuing them.

3.  Depression and anxiety disorders frequently coexist and the causes for both are strongly linked to stressful experiences.  Two new research studies have discovered biological links between stress, anxiety and depression.  For some genetically predisposed individuals, stress abnormally increases corticotrophin releasing factor 1, which then works to increase specific types of serotonin receptors in the brain (which have been linked to depression). 

  • So what?  This is exciting news.  First of all, finding ways to disrupt this connection may open doors for new advances in treatment for depression and anxiety.  On a personal level,  individuals with a family or personal history of depression may do well to incorporate specific stress management techniques (relaxation, medication, yoga)  into their daily lives, both as a buffer against potential stress-inducing depression and as an adjunct to more traditional mental health treatment.

In my opinion, it takes way too long for the people who most need new information to actually get it.  Have any ideas about how to shorten this gap?  I’d love to hear them.  

 

Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D, is the author of Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychology.

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