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Brain Response Can Indicate Oncoming Depression Relapse


According to a new study conducted by scientists at the University of Toronto, in the event that a person who previously struggled with depression enters a “mild” state of sadness, their brain’s response can indicate whether or not they will once again sink into depression.

In order to come to their conclusion, researchers utilized a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which tracked the brain activity of 16 ex-depression sufferers. These subjects were given sad movie clips to watch, and subsequently observed. After a 16-month period, nine of the patients had relapsed into depression. The brains of the subjects who suffered relapses were compared to the brains of the ones who remained healthy and a control group.

The images indicated that when presented with an issue that would invoke sadness, the patients who ended up relapsing displayed excess activity in the prefrontal hyrus. On the flip side, the subjects who did not relapse had more activity in the back part of the brain.

“Part of what makes depression such a devastating disease is the high rate of relapse,” said Norman Farb, a PhD psychology student and lead author of the study.

“However, the fact that some patients are able to fully maintain their recovery suggests the possibility that different responses to the type of emotional challenges encountered in everyday life could reduce the chance of relapse…For a person with a history of depression, using the frontal brain’s ability to analyze and interpret sadness may actually be an unhealthy reaction that can perpetuate the chronic cycle of depression. These at-risk individuals might be better served by trying to accept and notice their feelings rather than explain and analyze them.”

This research was published in Biological Psychiatry.

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