Since the pandemic, the percentage of Americans who currently take depression medication has climbed to almost 10%.
How do these drugs work? And why aren’t they available for everyone? Why do people become depressed?
All of these questions still have unanswered questions for experts. The brain is intricate. They are aware that depression has a variety of causes, including our inherited genes, the experiences we encounter as children, and the circumstances of our current existence.
They are also aware that many persons with depression can benefit from antidepressant medication, talk therapy, better sleep habits, exercise, and, in severe situations, ketamine and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
People experiencing symptoms of depression should get help right away and keep looking for the best option.
Srijan Sen, M.D. and Ph.D. is the director of the nation’s first Depression Center. He is worried about the potential impact of a new study on the role of serotonin for depression.
He is concerned that people might be confused by the simplicity of news articles and social media posts, which could lead to them questioning whether or not they should continue taking anti-depressant medications for depression.
He says that SSRIs are not perfect medicines. However, there is plenty of evidence that they work for many people.
The key takeaways from depression sufferers:
Sen is in charge of the Eisenberg Family Depression Institute, which has brought together academics from all around Michigan for more than 20 years. For more than 20 years, Sen has conducted his own independent study on depression. He has worked with numerous sad people in his roles as a psychologist and psychiatrist.
“Do we really need to know how a drug works or non-drug treatments work in order to use them?” He says that if this were true, there would be no treatment for depression.
“The biology of the brain and how it responds to depression are complex. Our current knowledge is very limited.”
It’s clear that basic science is essential to the search for better and more tailored treatments. This includes research on serotonin levels and genetic variation among individuals with depression. The EFDC’s members, who are from many areas of U.M., help to lead this search.
Sen said that clinical trials are a good source of information for people suffering from depression. Clinical trials have shown that SSRIs are moderately efficacious and can play an important part in treating depression, alongside other medications and psychotherapy.
This means that “if a treatment or combination thereof prescribed by your doctor is working for you,” it’s a great thing to do – keep going with it. This study is not as relevant as your personal experience with the treatment. Talk to your doctor if you are using any type of depression medication and still have not experienced relief.
The state of serotonin science:
Sen points out that mental health professionals don’t believe depression is caused by a simple chemical imbalance.
One of the most important brain chemicals, neurotransmitters, is serotonin. It helps brain cells “talk” by connecting with receptors on the cells’ outer surfaces.
This new study, which is drawing a lot of attention, examines a number of older studies on serotonin and attempts to draw conclusions from the data.
The researchers did not perform new experiments or combine existing studies in a meta-analysis. Instead, researchers did an “umbrella overview” of certain meta-analyses that were related to serotonin.
By chance, another study on serotonin transporter gene variations and depression was published a week prior to the one in the news. The study concluded that the serotonin transporter gene variants play a significant role in depression risk. This is in addition to stressful experiences throughout a person’s lifetime. However, this study has not received nearly as much attention. Sen said that the science behind serotonin’s role is still not clear.
Sen and his co-workers hope that newer research using modern tools, which allow scientists to examine far more data from far more patients, will speed up progress in depression treatment.
He says that compared to 20–30 years ago, when many of these initial research was conducted, “we now have greater instruments to analyze how neurotransmitters operate and neuronal circuits develop inside the brain.” We can now combine data from numerous levels of study and numerous patients in a way that was not previously conceivable thanks to computation.
Sen and his colleagues want to know if diverse combinations of genetic variations and life events, such as current lifestyle patterns and sleep patterns, can alter depression risk and treatment response.
They’re studying people who have high levels of stress and have varying work schedules, such as Sen, to learn more about the interaction between these factors.
Researchers at U-M, and other universities, are also studying ketamine and esketamine. They also study ECT, talk therapy, and even psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin. This is done to determine if they have any effect and to find out who responds best to them. Participants will need to be free from anxiety, depression and other conditions.
“Basic science is essential for finding new targets and comprehending how depression and anxiety affect the brain. It may ultimately result in novel therapies that benefit more patients.” Sen. adds, “But we don’t need to be completely clear on the molecular pathways in order to act on clinical trial data that demonstrates the benefits of therapies like better sleep, cognitive behavior therapy, or SSRIs.”
Similar to how cancer treatment is personalized to each patient’s needs, future depression treatment may do the same.
Sen. says, “We need better medications and we need to know how to give the correct treatment to the right patient at right time.”