A recent special issue in Science Magazine focused on different aspects of depression, including its causes and treatment. In the introduction, Defeating the Dementors, Paul Stern talks about the devastating aspects of depression, not only for the people directly affected but for their family and friends. Despite the improved treatment options and recognition of depression's impact, cases have been rising in recent decades. The issue provide fascinating new perspectives on depression and how it can be treated.
- Can new research models showing that stress and depression can lead to neuronal atrophy and decreased synaptic connections in key areas of the brain lead to better antidepressant medications or more revolutionary treatment approaches?
- Is the brain's ability to generate new neurons in the hippocampus the key to recovering from mood disorders and effective antidepressants? Despite conflicting research studies, a new review paper suggests that cross-fertilization between mood disorder research and other branches of neuroscience mght clarify the role that hippocampal neurogenesis plays in mood disorders.
- Because of ethical limitations, much of the research looking into the neurochemistry of depression depends on successfully emulating depressive symptoms and treatment in animals. But how valid are animal-based experimental models of depression? A review article written by a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looks at whether neuroscientists are getting closer to valid translational models for major depression.
- Not everyone responds to trauma and stress in the same way. Even in catastrophes, some people can show remarkable resilience while others develop posttraumatic stress disorder and depression. The final review paper in the special issue looks at psychological, genetic, cognitive, and genetic protective factors and how they can interact stress and trauma.
The closing editorial by Hans-Ulrich Wittchen provides a sobering overview on the burden of mood disorders, whether individally, economically, or on society as a whole. While the prevalence of mood disorders has remained steady at approximately ten percent of the population over the past ten years in much of Europe, the financial costs are harder to estimate than for diseases such as cancer or heart disease. Along with the direct costs of diagnosis and treatment, there are also the indirect costs including workdays lost to illness, unemployment, long-term disability, etc. Though the challenges of dealing with mood disorders are immense, major shifts are underway in public health policy and research.
One example that Dr. Wittchen provides is the ROAMER project funded by the European Commission. Short for "Roadmap for Mental Health in Europe", the project brings together mental health researchers across Europe in a series of events and workshops at 14 participating institutions including eminent universities such as the King's College London, the Central Institute of Mental Health and the London School of Economics. The Roamer project is currently preparing a Research Roadmap for the European Union to help combat the problems that mood disorder patients and their families often face.
This special issue is likely required reading for mental health professionals and public health workers. Check it out yourself and let me know what you think.