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article imageCatching depression early for good mental health

By Tim Sandle     Jan 26, 2016 in Health
Is it possible to diagnose depression before it takes a grip? Two research groups think so and they have devised a new brain imaging system, aimed at children.
Whether depression can or cannot be diagnosed depends partly whether there is a leaning towards the psychiatric (mental illness is caused by an imbalance of chemicals) or the psychological (past events and experiences affect the mind). Even within these broad brush strokes of the human psyche there are subtle interactions.
So, it is probably more accurate that the joint inquiry between MIT and Harvard Medical School researchers is that certain types of depression could be detected. They aim to develop a technique to screen children who are regarded as being at high risk of developing depression later when they become adults.
This is based on there being distinctive brain pattern differences in children known to be at high risk because of family history of depression. Distinctive brain patterns have been detected within two brain regions using functional magnetic resonance imaging. These regions are the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC), where abnormally high synchronization is apparent between this region and other brain regions; and the amygdala, where key hyperactive connections are apparent.
These distinctive patterns were found by comparing brain regions between those who were self-reported as depressed and not depressed. The findings were then used to scan 27 children who were identified as being at ‘high risk’ of developing depression.
The research indicates it is possible to scan the brains of children to look for particular signs. If the signs are confirmed, then these children could be directed to receive treatment. Many psychiatrists are of the view that early detection and treatment provides the best means to tackle mental illness. This assumes a "cause and effect" connection and is a controversial topic.
The research lead was John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology at MIT. The findings are published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. The paper is called “Altered Intrinsic Functional Brain Architecture in Children at Familial Risk of Major Depression.”
More about Depression, Mental health, Brain scan, Psychiatry
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