Tag Archives: Depression

Depression: Physiological differences in teenage boys and girls

By the time they hit 15, teenage girls are twice as likely as teenage boys to suffer from depression.

This could be because girls tend to think more negatively, dwelling on social and body image stressors. They’re also more likely to have experienced sexual abuse and other negative events. On a biological level, their hormones fluctuate more and they’re more vulnerable to inflammation.

A group of scientists from the U.K. and the U.S. wanted to understand what was happening in the brains of depressed teenage boys versus depressed teenage girls. They hooked up both depressed and non-depressed boys and girls to fMRI equipment and gave them a task: Press a button when you see a happy word. Don’t press it when you see a sad word. (Such an activity puts something called cognitive control to the test. Impaired cognitive control has been associated with depression.) Then they watched what happened in the subjects’ brains.

To keep it simple, they saw differences between the sexes, specifically in the brain’s supramarginal gyrus (an area thought to be involved in emotional responses) and posterior cingulate (an area associated with control, awareness, and memory). When faced with a cognitive control task, there’s a lot less activation going on for males with depression compared to healthy males–depressed and healthy female brains were relatively similar in that situation.

So what does this new knowledge do for the study of depression? It emphasizes that teenage boys and teenage girls suffering from depression have different things going on in their brains. The way we treat –and try to prevent –the disorder should, therefore, be different.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Probiotics to treat depression?

It’s not official yet, but a new study suggests taking probiotics could relieve symptoms of depression.

Remember several months ago, when I wrote about the relationship between your gut and your mental health? I recommended changing what you eat to develop a healthier gut. Well, this new study is along those same lines: Taking a probiotic to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS–a gut affliction) can also treat depression and anxiety.

It was just a small study with 44 participants. Each had both IBS and mild to moderate anxiety or depression. Half the participants took a probiotic (Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001, to be specific), while half took a placebo.

In the end, 14 of the 22 probiotic takers reported improvement in their depression symptoms, compared to half that number in the placebo group.

The researchers took it further and scanned the participants’ brains: Those whose depression symptoms had improved also showed changes in areas of the brain associated with mood control.

We need to see a larger version of this study before we start jumping on board, but given the established connection between the gut and the brain, I think it’s a promising area of research.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Lithium for depression: An oldie but a goodie

There are drugs far more fashionable than Lithium these days: Pharmaceutical companies pay their representatives big money to promote their latest offerings, both with mental health care providers and in advertising.

The thing is, I’m not convinced any new and fancy drug can beat tried and true Lithium in effectiveness.

John Cade, the psychiatrist who discovered Lithium’s effectiveness in treating mental health disorders.

Doctors started prescribing Lithium in the 1800s to treat gout, epilepsy, and cancer. In 1948, an Australian psychiatrist named John Cade stumbled upon its usefulness in treating mania. After testing it out on guinea pigs, who became quiet and relaxed with its injection, he took his experiment to the next level by taking Lithium himself for several weeks.

Once he determined it was safe, Cade administered the drug in liquid form to a psychotic man who had been living in a mental asylum for three decades. In three weeks, the patient began to show signs of improvement: He looked after himself, his speech slowed, and erratic behaviors decreased. At the end of two months, the man was released from the asylum and resumed normal life.

It was a game changer for psychiatry. It was one of the first success stories in using drugs to treat mental illness.

Almost 70 years later, those success stories continue — and not just with bipolar depression, its most famous application. It’s been shown to work extremely well with unipolar depression, too.

A recent Finnish study found taking Lithium significantly decreased hospital readmission for those who had previously been hospitalized for unipolar depression. Antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs lacked the same effect. Lithium alone was more effective than lithium in combination with another drug.

The study’s authors are recommending more research into Lithium as well as its wider use as treatment for depression.

Lithium does have a narrow window of effectiveness, so the dose must be carefully watched. Go here to read more about Lithium and its possible side effects.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Poor sleep? It could be affecting your negative thoughts

Ever heard of cognitive reappraisal? It’s where you take a negative thought or experience and recast it in a positive light. (Failed a test? At first maybe you dwell on your shortcomings, but then you “reappraise” and think of it as a chance to see where you can improve.)

A new study shows people with sleep problems have a harder time doing that than do their well-rested counterparts.

All participants in the study had a depression and/or anxiety disorder, which already puts them at a disadvantage for seeing the positive side of things. Researchers wanted to see if lack of sleep made that worse.

First, the scientists gave participants sleep trackers. After measuring how well they slept for six nights, they hooked the subjects up to an MRI and watched brain activity while the participants completed an emotional regulation task: They had to look at disturbing images and reappraise them in a more positive light. (For example, a subject might look at a picture of a battered woman and imagine her as a model wearing make-up instead of as a victim of violence.)

The region of the brain known to be involved in regulating emotions is called the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (DACC), and it springs into action when you’re engaging in cognitive reappraisal.

Here’s what the scientists found: During the reappraisal task, people who had sleep problems had more activity in the DACC than did people who slept well. Researchers interpreted those findings to mean the sleep-deprived brains had to work harder to come up with a positive spin on images.

If you’re depressed or anxious, let’s talk about your sleep. If we can get you sleeping better, you could find it easier to see the world in a more positive way.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

The future of depression treatment is in your blood

I’ve written before about how prescribing medication for depression can be an imprecise science. Often it takes multiple tries before we find the right drug or combination of drugs to send your depression into remission.

A study from Dr. Madhukar Trivedi (front) demonstrated that measuring a depressed patient’s C-reactive protein level can help doctors prescribe an antidepressant that is more likely to work. (utsouthwestern.edu)

Scientists are working on that problem, though, and a new study shows promising results: Researchers found that a simple blood test can indicate which type of medication is most likely to work on a given patient.

In this study, researchers took finger pricks of patients’ blood and measured levels of a protein called C-reactive protein (CRP). They treated the patients with one of two medication options and found that people with low levels of the protein responded a lot better to one medication, while people with high levels of the protein responded a lot better to the other.

There is a lot more research to be done. More medications need to be tested alongside CRP measurements, and other markers need to be found to fill in the gaps where CRP isn’t enough of an indicator.

This is a promising start, though, and I’m excited to see where further research goes.

Go here to read more about the study.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.

Brain fog? It could be a symptom of depression

When you think of depression, symptoms like sadness, fatigue, and feelings of worthlessness probably come to mind. Another symptom — one with a lower profile than its companions — is impaired cognitive functioning.

Some depressed people experience difficulty focusing, learning, remembering, understanding, and more. It can be distressing to notice your mental abilities declining.

The good news is these cognitive symptoms tend to improve with treatment. The bad news is they usually don’t disappear. In one study, patients suffering from depression reported cognitive problems 94 percent of the time; that percentage decreased to 44 percent after most symptoms of depression had abated.

It’s a significant decrease, but not the healing depressed people hope to see.

There’s a lot of room for science to come in and figure out what treatment options best improve cognitive functioning in depressed people. That’s why I was happy to see one step in that direction recently.

A group of researchers posed a cognitive test to two groups of rats–one group depressed and the other not. During the test, they measured certain protein levels in the rats’ cells. They found the depressed rats had lower levels of these proteins, which have been previously shown to play a role in the cognitive process.

Knowing what’s going on biologically should lead to better treatment for the cognitive aspect of depression.

Treatment for psychiatric problems is constantly improving, and it’s exciting to watch.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.

Newborn brain scans predict depression

Does depression change the brain, or are brain abnormalities the cause of depression?

There’s a new study out that sheds some light on that question.

A group of scientists took their research all the way back to the beginning of life: They scanned the brains of newborn babies.

Two years later, they evaluated those children for signs of depression and anxiety (sadness, excessive shyness, nervousness, or separation anxiety — all symptoms that have been linked to depression and anxiety disorders in older children and adults).

They found a pattern in the scans. The children who showed signs of depression and anxiety at age two tended to have at birth similar connections between the amygdala (a structure involved in processing emotion) and other brain regions (such as the insula, which is associated with consciousness and emotion, and the medial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision making).

The researchers want to stretch the study out further to see if these connectivity patterns really do predict psychiatric disorders later in life, but so far the evidence is interesting. If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety now, it’s likely you were born with the brain connections that helped lead you there.

But no matter when or where you psychiatric distress came from, help is available! Therapy, lifestyle changes, and medication can counteract the tendencies you were born with or developed later in life. Let’s talk about it!

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.

Facebook comparisons: Bad for mental health

If you find yourself looking at your friends’ Facebook posts and comparing your life to theirs in a negative way, Facebook is probably not for you.

I find myself giving this advice to so many of my patients that I was not surprised to see a study on the topic published last week. It evaluated the results of studies on social media and depression from 14 countries and found that these social media comparisons are more likely to lead to depression than the comparisons we make in real life.

The link was especially strong in people who post on Facebook frequently and in people who accept friend requests from their exes.

Facebook depression is a real thing: in 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics described it as “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.”

And in my experience, it’s real for some adults, too.

If you’re one of these people who feels depressed after being on Facebook, the solution is simple: Skip it! Uninstall Facebook from your phone! Stop visiting the site from your computer! You do not need that negativity in your life.

If browsing social media is your favorite way of relaxing, find a replacement. Go back to reading books. Find a cell phone game you like. Read the news. Look for DIY inspiration on Pinterest. Do crosswords or sudoku. Get a grown-up coloring book. There are lots of options!

Know yourself and what makes you happy, then choose that. In a lot of cases, it’s not Facebook.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.

Arthritis drug boosts antidepressant’s effectiveness

I was excited to read this week about another new treatment possibility for depression: An arthritis drug, when paired with an antidepressant, has been shown to work amazingly well.

It’s all about inflammation. Older studies have shown that depression leads to inflammation. Inflammation messes with the chemical balance in your brain and can prevent antidepressants from restoring that balance.

I’ve written before about how taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can cut the depression symptoms for people with bipolar disorder, but this takes that treatment theory to another level.

This time, researchers got serious about tackling inflammation. They brought in an arthritis drug Celecoxib (used to treat pain, redness, swelling and inflammation from arthritis) and paired it with an antidepressant (Lexapro).

For an incredible 78 percent of patients, depression symptoms diminished by at least half. Sixty-three percent reported their depression was completely gone. That’s compared to remission in just 10 percent of patients taking Lexapro alone (with 45 percent saying symptoms had reduced by half).

Furthermore, where antidepressants typically take four to six weeks to start working, patients taking the arthritis drug saw results in just one week.

This new treatment method could prove to be a game changer for many!

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.

 

Avoiding time change depression

A Danish study recently found that depression diagnoses go up significantly (8 percent) in the month following the change from Daylight Savings Time back to standard time.

With the time change scheduled to happen this Sunday, let’s be on the lookout for signs of depression. Better yet, let’s be proactive in fighting it back.

The Danish researchers suggest the increase is tied to the loss of sunshine in the time when we really notice: The few hours at the end of the day, right when we’re getting off work and hoping to enjoy some free time. It also marks the coming of a long string of dark, cold days (especially in Denmark).

The article announcing the study begins with this disheartening quote by not-helpful Danish poet Henrik Nordbrant:

The year has 16 months: November, December, January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, November, November, November.

I’d like to counter with this verse by poet Alexander L. Fraser:

Fear not November’s challenge bold—
We’ve books and friends,
And hearths that never can grow cold:
These make amends!

So here’s what you can do: Dust off your favorite books, call your friends, light your fire. In other words, make plans! Do things you love. Go out and serve others (I recommend this website for finding opportunities). Take an ice skating or art class. Bundle up and go for a walk in the sunshine when you can.

If you’re feeling depressed, there are many things you can do. Medication and therapy can be a big part of that.  With work and help, November can turn out to be a good month after all.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.