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Environment can help tackle depression, says study

05-23 | Rachael

Environment can help tackle depression, says study

Who says genes govern depression in an individual? A positive and engaging environment can help genetically depressed people lead a more meaningful and happier life, a recent study by the Northwestern University has found. Genes cannot be the indicators of depression in a person because the surrounding environment can play an important role in determining the occurrence and prevalence of depression.

Major depressive disorder (MDD) affects around 6.9 percent individuals in the United States in a year, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The origin of MDD is still unknown, though genes and environment seem to be relevant causes for its occurrence. Environmental risk factors can include a stressful personal and professional life and other taxing events. The genetic contribution or the heritability of depression is approximately 38 percent, according to a 2006 Swedish twin study of lifetime major depression.

The latest study, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry in March 2016, stated that the surrounding environment could play a major role in reducing depression. Lead investigator Eva Redei, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said, “The environment can modify a genetic predisposition to depression.”

She said that the study is reassuring for those with a family history of depression and are afraid that they or their children might inherit the disorder. The study suggested that psychotherapy or behavioral activation can play a vital role in alleviating the tendency to be depressed.

Enriched environment helped rats engage more with one another

The rats in the study were bred to display depression-like behavior for 33 generations and showed extreme despair. Redei and her colleagues wanted to examine if a changing environment can alter the rats’ genetically induced depression.

The researchers put the depressed rats in large cages that had a similar look and feel like Disneyland. They kept toys for the rats and gave them places for hiding and climbing. The rats were kept in a playground for a month.

According to Redei, the situation was staged as a psychotherapy for the rats as the enriched environment helped them engage more with one another. After a month, they noticed that the depressive behavior was greatly reduced.

After the playground psychotherapy, the rats were placed in a tank full of water to measure the depressive levels in their behavior. The genetically depressed rats energetically paddled around the tank, looking for an opening to escape.

But before the playground psychotherapy, when the two groups were kept in water, the controlled rats swam around looking for a way to escape, while the depressed rats simply floated, showing a helpless behavior.

Environmental stress and depression levels

The researchers also tried to examine if environmental stress had anything to do with depression in rats who were bred to be non-depressed. Initially, the rats did not show any despair. The controlled rats were given a psychologically stressful situation for two hours a day for two weeks, after which when they were placed in a tank full of water, they showed depressed behavior and floated without trying to find an exit for escape. Environmental stress altered some of the blood biomarkers from non-depressed levels to depressed ones, generally seen in genetically depressed rats.

Redei said that if the biomarkers caused behavioral changes in response to the environment, this is an opportunity to find new drugs to change the level of biomarkers in depressed rats as compared to the non-depressed one. This, in turn, will help in developing new antidepressants helpful for reducing the levels of depression.

She added, “You don’t have people who are completely genetically predisposed to depression the way the rats were. If you can modify depression in these rats, you most certainly should be able to do it in humans.”

Beholding a depression-less future

Such studies help in determining several causal factors that might be linked to depression and their possible solutions. A positive environment with the right kind of therapies can help in reducing depression to a considerable extent.

If you or your loved one is suffering from depression, please seek a comprehensive medical treatment for getting back your depression-free life. The qualified representatives at the Depression Treatment Helpline of Colorado can help you find options for depression treatment in Colorado. You can call our 24/7 helpline at 866-427-5668 or chat online to know about various depression treatment centers in Colorado.


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