Learn About Depression Research Studies

What Are Depression Research Studies?

A major depressive disorder (MDD) affects over 264 million people globally. The mental health disorder is characterized by depressive symptoms such as low energy, sadness, irregular sleep cycle, and impaired daily activities. Other signs include social withdrawal and a lack of interest in recreational activities.

Feelings of loneliness, self-esteem issues, and anxiety are other symptoms. Individuals that experience these changes for 2 weeks or more are diagnosed with this disorder. Prolonged episodes prevent depressed people from functioning properly leading to poor academic and professional performance.

Most patients experience recurring episodes. In some severe cases, patients might practice self-harm and are at risk of committing suicide to ease psychological and emotional distress.

Depression research studies explore psychological disorders to identify the root cause of these episodes, including environmental, genetic, and behavioral factors. Additionally, adverse childhood experiences or recent trauma (such as assault, accident, or death of a loved one) can also cause depression.

Depression Research Studies

Systematic reviews and meta-analysis track the progress and development of interventions by comparing past and current trials, research articles, and medical reviews. Collectively, these studies catalog the advancement in medicine by providing modern researchers, practitioners, and pharmaceutical companies with the data necessary to create new and improved treatments.

Experimental studies, preliminary trials and clinical trials, examine the efficacy and safe usage of new drugs by testing them on animal or human participants. These studies divide participants to compare the effectiveness of current interventions with new ones or explore the possibility of using complementary and alternative medicine to treat depression.

These are the reasons why depression research studies are an integral part of psychological medicine and treatments.

Why Is Depression Being Studied Through Research Studies?

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers depression one of the leading causes of disability. The illness affects at least 5% of adults worldwide. Yet, depressive disorders are often left undiagnosed and untreated because of a lack of accessible mental healthcare services, social constraints, and an individual’s inexperience in recognizing depressive symptoms.

Depression research studies raise awareness of the psychological disorder and support advancements in treatment. The importance of these efforts goes above and beyond expectations as modern technology makes it easier to detect and diagnose the causes of medical conditions.

Furthermore, research studies disclosed the high comorbidity levels of depression with anxiety and several chronic illnesses. Unbearable psychological strain can often cause neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular issues, chronic pain, sleep deprivation (insomnia), low immunity, and other health problems.

Many research studies are focusing on developing specific treatments that can make comorbid conditions manageable. Without these studies, scientific and medical knowledge about treating depression would be limited.

What Are The Types of Treatments Available For Depression?

Psychotherapy and medication are considered the leading medical interventions for depression. The treatment varies depending on the severity of the symptoms. Patients often undergo different treatments at once to manage physical and psychological symptoms.

Depression Treatment

Common depression treatments are as follows:

  • Behavioral Therapy (BT) - Behavioral therapy focuses on actions patients can take to better manage symptoms while cognitive behavioral therapy delves into thought patterns and our response to negative emotions.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - The therapy addresses psychological symptoms and current stressors in a patient’s life. CBT explores the interrelation between thoughts, emotions, and behavior and how they impact quality of life. Therapists teach patients how to redirect regressive thought patterns with positive thinking.
  • Light Therapy - Phototherapy works best for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). A form of depression triggered by seasonal changes. Longer nights disrupt the circadian rhythm and melatonin levels which causes moodiness, fatigue, and cognitive issues. Light therapy provides patients with adequate light to regulate natural melatonin production.
  • Medications. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved some categories of pharmaceutical drugs that alter brain chemistry to manage depressive symptoms. Common medications include second-generation antidepressants such as SNRIs (Serotonin-norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors), SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), and NDRIs (Norepinephrine/Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors).
  • Herbal products. Supplements containing St. John’s Wort can treat mild to moderate depression when patients take the right dosage.
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Mindful activities such as yoga, physical exercise, sports activities, acupuncture, and massage can help manage depressive symptoms. These treatments work best in adjunct to conventional treatments.

In addition to this, a well-balanced diet and restful sleep also have a positive impact on depression.

What Are Some Recent Breakthrough Research Studies on Depression?

Over the years, depression research studies have moved from conventional methods to complementary and alternative medicine. Lifestyle changes and plant-based drugs are also seen as viable options for treatment.

We highlight some of the important breakthroughs in depression treatment and prevention below:

2018:A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effect of CBT and Its Modifications for Relapse Prevention in MDD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) remains a popular treatment for depression. The study compared available data from clinical trials to check the efficacy of CBT and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) treatments in managing depressive symptoms for a prolonged period and reducing the risk of relapse. Patients exhibited marked improvement when they underwent MBCT treatment compared to only CBT interventions. Thereby, researchers conclude the MBCT might be “a more effective intervention.” Moreover, the positive outcomes are expected to manage MDD for an estimated two to six years if patients undergo follow-up sessions of CBT and its modifications routinely.

2019: Efficacy of Esketamine Nasal Spray Plus Oral Antidepressant Treatment. The comparative study assesses the effectiveness of oral antidepressants and nasal spray usage with a placebo treatment where participants only use oral drugs for treating symptoms of depression in patients with TRD in remission. Results prove to be promising as the continuous use of esketamine nasal spray with antidepressants delays relapse.

2020: Physical Exercise as Preventive Therapy for Comorbid Diseases Such as Depression and Cardiovascular Disease. Mental health illnesses such as depression can affect heart health. Since physical activity benefits mental and cardiovascular health, this study collects evidence from different clinical trials to determine how regular exercise functions as a treatment and prevention for stress-induced comorbid diseases like these. Current research shows that it limits the impact of stress on the immune system and promotes healthy vagal tone (i.e. the measurement of a heart’s response to environmental alterations) to support resilience in patients diagnosed with these comorbid diseases. The use of medications with physical exercises maximizes the efficacy of prescribed drugs.

2020: Cannabidiol: A Potential New Alternative for the Treatment of Anxiety, Depression, and Psychotic Disorders. The research compared preliminary clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of Cannabis sativa plant extracts for managing mental health disorders. Results reveal that cannabidiol can potentially treat psychotic disorders such as anxiety and depression effectively due to its anxiolytic, antidepressant, and antipsychotic properties. Additionally, it’s more beneficial than plant extracts with high THC levels that pose a risk of substance abuse due to their addictive nature. Cannabidiol’s non-hallucinogenic properties are also advantageous. These trials support the advancement of depression treatments with large-scale production of safe drugs that include cannabidiol.

2022: Biological Role of Nutrients, Food, and Dietary Patterns in the Prevention and Clinical Management of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) explores the biological properties of different food groups and their benefits in managing depressive symptoms. The study focused on nuts, fish, seeds, vegetables, and caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea. These groups enrich the body with several bioactive compounds such as dietary fiber, polyphenols, vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients. Having a nutrient-rich diet comprising these foods in sufficient quantities can have direct and, at times, indirect impacts on various pathophysiological mechanisms of mental health illnesses. Depression research studies like these play a pivotal role in discovering how lifestyle changes can reduce health risks.

2022: The Efficacy of Telehealth Care for Treating Mental Health Issues compares the effectiveness of online interventions with mental health care provided in person during the pandemic. Initial studies show that virtual treatments are a viable alternative to conventional medical care. They are practical, accessible, and effective in supervising individuals diagnosed with anxiety and depressive symptoms. Results reveal that there are no “significant differences” in how participants responded to in-person treatments compared to telehealth groups. Yet, most self-reported the beneficial effect of treatment on their quality of life. Future depression research studies can explore the transition of mental health care to a virtual setting and a similar model for other healthcare services.

Who Are Some Of The Key Opinion Leaders / Researchers / Institutions Conducting Depression Research Studies?

American Psychological Association (APA) is one of the leading organizations that support scientific and medical research for mental health illnesses. It also has one of the largest digital databases of studies exploring different aspects of mental health and human psychology. The database includes research studies, articles, books, medical journals, and other online resources that help accredited professionals make informed decisions during diagnosis, treatment, and other interventions while managing patients with depression and other mental health illnesses.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America is a nonprofit organization that works diligently to develop interventions that promote effective prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression. They focus on aligning scientific development, medical treatments, and education programs to support the implementation of the best medication and practices in managing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and co-occurring health problems.

Mental Health America (MHA) is a foundation that leads depression research studies to support new and effective interventions and ways to diagnose mental health disorders early. They also organize fundraisers to make mental health services more accessible to the public and run initiatives to educate and engage the public in raising awareness about mental health disorders.

David Mischoulon, MD, Ph.D., heads the Depression Clinical and Research Program (DCRP) at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) as the Director and is a certified medical acupuncturist. His research work studies the effect of using conventional treatments with complementary and alternative medicine to manage depression.

Gerard Sanacora, MD, Ph.D., works as the Director of the Yale Depression Research Program and also teaches Psychiatry at Yale University. His research explores the pathophysiological mechanisms correlated with mood disorders and other neurological problems impairing psychological functions. His research studies are being utilized in developing novel treatments for depression and other mental health issues. One of his breakthrough discoveries is the use of ketamine for treating depression.