Research

Finding a New Treatment to Relieve Symptoms of Depression

Amanda Azia


Abstract

Depression, also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is a mood disorder in which a patient has a persistent feeling of sadness. Depression may lead to numerous problems, both emotional and physical. The following essay includes a general overview of depression, such as its symptoms, causes, and treatments. This article is intended to provide further awareness on depression and explain a new treatment, which helped relieve its symptoms.

 

Overview of Depression

Depression is characterized as a mood disorder that involves continuously feeling sad and having a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed [1]. Depression leads to individuals’ daily lives being negatively affected. This includes how they think and handle daily activities, such as eating or working. Symptoms of depression must be present for at least two weeks before an individual can be diagnosed with depression [2]. Depression is a complex disorder in that there are many different forms, and depression affects people in different ways [3]. For example, women with depression usually experience symptoms of guilt and sadness, while men experiencing depression are typically tired and irritable [3]. Depression symptoms can range from being mild to severe. Some include trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping, feeling valueless, guilty, sad, or having thoughts of death or suicide [4].  In any given year, depression affects around 6.7% of adults, and 16.6% of people experience depression sometime during their life [4]. Scientists have concluded that there are numerous causes for why individuals experience depression; this includes individuals’ biochemistry, genetics, personality, and exposure to environmental factors [4].

Depression can be treated with medication and/or psychotherapy. However, if those treatments do not reduce symptoms, brain stimulation therapy is another treatment option for mental health professionals and patients to explore [3]. Medications, referred to as antidepressants, can work to treat depression [3]. The patient's brain chemistry may contribute to an individual's experience with depression, which may factor into their treatment. Therefore, antidepressants might be prescribed to assist in modifying their brain chemistry [4]. Antidepressants can lead to many side effects, such as headaches, weight loss or gain, or drowsiness [6]. Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy”, may be used alone for treating patients with mild depression, but patients with moderate to severe depression usually use psychotherapy along with antidepressants [4]. There are many brain stimulations, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), that may be an option for people with severe depression who do not notice their symptoms improving with antidepressants or psychotherapy [3]. ECT is a procedure performed under general anesthesia where small electric currents pass through the brain [7].  The goal of ECT is to cause a change in brain chemistry and reverse symptoms of severe depression [7].

 

Stanford Accelerated Intelligent Neuromodulation Therapy (SAINT)

A small study directed by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine used a new form of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) called SAINT [8]. TMS is a noninvasive procedure to improve symptoms of depression that utilizes magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain [9]. SAINT was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating depression [8].  The researchers reported that by increasing the number of magnetic pulses, speeding up the pace of the treatment, and targeting the pulses according to the individual’s neurocircuitry, SAINT surpasses current FDA-approved protocols [8].  Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to locate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, especially a specific subregion within it [8].  Researchers located the subregion in every participant that has a relationship with the part of the brain that is overactive in people who experience depression, called the subgenual cingulate [8]. The relationship between the two regions is weak in people who have depression, and this leads to the subgenual cingulate becoming overactive [8].  By stimulating the subregion of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, this reduces the activity in the subgenual cingulate [8].

According to numerous diagnostic tests for depression, all 21 participants were seriously depressed before undergoing SAINT and had suicidal thoughts before therapy [10]. However, medications, FDA-approved TMS, or ECT did not improve symptoms for any of the 21 participants [8]. With SAINT, the participants of the study undertook 10 sessions daily of 10-minute treatments, along with 50-minute breaks in between [8].

 

Results of SAINT

Researchers of the study did not find many side effects of the new therapy as fatigue and minimal discomfort during treatment were the only side effects reported [8]. Researchers discovered an improvement in that participants could switch between mental tasks and solving problems, which is the usual outcome for people who are no longer depressed [8]. After therapy, 19 out of the 21 participants scored within the nondepressed range, and none of the participants reported having suicidal thoughts after undergoing treatment [10]. A month after therapy, 60% of participants remained in remission from depression  meanwhile 90% of patients noticed that their symptoms of depression were quickly relieved [10].

The researchers are conducting a bigger, double-blinded trial where half of the participants receive treatments that are fake [8]. The researchers are confident that the second trial will be just as effective in being able to treat people whose condition was not improved with medication, psychotherapy, or electromagnetic stimulation [8]. Also, the researchers plan to study the effectiveness of SAINT on numerous other conditions including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), addiction, and autism spectrum disorders. [8].

 

Conclusion
As much as we know about depression, there are still many unknowns regarding how one's brain chemistry impacts the effectiveness of different treatments. It is important for scientists to continue to study the side effects of these new treatments on patients as well. Also, it is crucial for us as a society to see depression as a medical condition rather than an individual’s decision. Overall, our society should learn to equally value mental and physical health, as well as removing the stigma of seeking help with mental illnesses.


References


  1. Goldman, Laura. (22/11/19). What is depression and what can I do about it? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/8933#definition. Retrieved: 4/10/2020.

  2. Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml. Retrieved: 4/10/2020.

  3. 2016. Depression Basics. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml. Retrieved: 4/10/2020.

  4. What is Depression? American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression. Retrieved: 4/10/2020.

  5. Berry, Jennifer. (29/10/19). Common symptoms of depression: What to know. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326769. Retrieved: 4/10/2020.

  6. Nordqvist, Christian. (16/2/18). All about antidepressants. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/248320. Retrieved: 4/10/2020.

  7. (12/10/18). Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/electroconvulsive-therapy/about/pac-20393894. Retrieved: 4/10/2020.

  8. (7/4/20). Treatment relieves depression in 90% of participants in small study. Science Daily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200407072716.htm. Retrieved: 4/10/2020.

  9. (27/11/18). Transcranial magnetic stimulation. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/transcranial-magnetic-stimulation/about/pac-20384625. Retrieved: 4/10/2020.

  10. Erickson, Mandy. (6/4/20). Stanford researchers devise treatment that relieved depression in 90% of participants in small study. Stanford Medicine. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/04/stanford-researchers-devise-treatment-that-relieved-depression-i.html. Retrieved: 4/10/2020.

Amanda Azia

Amanda Azia


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