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Do You Really Need Anti-Depressants? A New Test Could Answer This Question


Anti-Depressants have been popular for years, but are they really needed by every person who takes them? There is no blood test or any signs that can bee seen in an MRI or Cat scan which can show that a person suffers from clinical depression. A new test from scientists at Stanford may be able to do that now and answer the question of who really needs the medication.

Depression is one of the most widespread and costly psychological illnesses in the Western world. Every year more and more people are diagnosed with it and ever more are prescribed anti-depressants as a treatment. But many professionals have decried the way that this medication is dispensed in America like candy and critics maintain that most people who are simply sad do not need the medication. Clinical depression, say some, is over-diagnosed.

And social conservatives are fond of criticizing the very existence of anti-depressants, saying that it gives people an excuse not to deal with their problems. Instead, they argue, doctors should tell people to just “get over” whatever is bothering them. And many people, unfortunately, think that Depression just means being sad about something.

But it does not. Depression can be debilitating and includes many symptoms, such as aggression and insomnia, in addition to sadness.

Another problem is that different types of medications work in different ways and there is no way to know which one fits which patient best. Doctors are forced to experiment with their patients through trial and error.

So any formal screenings for the illness such as there are for other conditions like diabetes would put such criticisms to rest.


According to a report from the CDC, 10% of all Americans who take this medication do so for more than 10 years and more than 12% of all Americans over the age of 12 have tried them. But the vast majority of these people use anti-depressants for less than two years. Perhaps this is because America allows advertising for prescription medications and the dispensation of psychotropic drugs is not limited to psychiatrists.

But anti-depressants are not simply a happy pill. And if they merely have a placebo effect on the recipient then it is likely that the person did not really need the medication.

Clinical depression is very real and costs economies millions a year in lost productivity when untreated.

The team behind the new research was led by Andrea N. Goldstein-Piekarski. They pinpointed a group of nuclei in the brain called amygdala as being related to the development of clinical depression and say that the test which they developed can detect whether or not their activity shows signs for the illness.


The report, as published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, begins:

“Amygdala reactivity and early life stress (ELS) are both strongly implicated in the mechanisms of depression in animal and human models. Despite these mechanistic foundations, amygdala reactivity and ELS have not been investigated as biobehavioral targets for predicting functional remission in depression. We addressed this issue by integrating human imaging and ELS measures within a controlled trial of antidepressant outcomes. We demonstrate that the interaction between ELS and amygdala engagement predicts functional remission on antidepressants with a greater than 80% cross-validated accuracy. In depressed people exposed to high ELS, a greater likelihood of remission was predicted by amygdala hyperreactivity to socially rewarding stimuli, whereas for those with low-ELS exposure, amygdala hyporeactivity to both rewarding and threat-related stimuli predicted remission.”

If the scientists have gotten it write, and they claim that the test could have more than 80% accuracy, it will revolutionize mental health care as we know it. The dispensation of ant-depressant medications could be limited to only those who really need them and the doses can be made to fit each person individually.



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