Depression Prevention: State Mandated Screenings, Software that Detects it, Growing Evidence of a Cure, and Reasoning why People Suffer from it.

Author: Austin Munday Date: 2/2/16 Newsletter Signup

On the 26th of January, The U.S. Preventative Service made a statement that recommends clinicians screen all adults for depression. This would mean that when you visit the doctor, extra tests may be administered in a consensual manner.

The plan places emphasis on screening pregnant women in particular. For some women, the physiological changes of pregnancy combined with the psychological stress of impending child bearing/rearing can cause serious episodes of depression. [1]

The Preventative Service is not the only team working on identifying depression. Skip Rizzo and a group of researchers/coders have developed a program called Ellie that can detect depression. The measurements used to justify the results are based on factors such as duration of smile, voice tone, and how often the patients touch their face.

“Contrary to popular belief, depressed people smile as many times as non-depressed people,” Rizzo says. “But their smiles are less robust and of less duration. It’s almost like polite smiles rather than real, robust, coming from your inner-soul type of a smile.” [2]

Ellie may be deployed in militaristic operations to help identify post-traumatic stress disorder among soldiers. The software may also serve as an unbiased, neutral agent of depression identification because some evidence suggests that, “people feel less judged by interviews with virtual humans”.

Anyone familiar with depression, either through literature or personal experience, will know that the cure is not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. What works for one person may not for another.

Yet there is growing support among psychologists for treating depression with controlled administration of ketamine. According to the Washington Post, “Experts are calling it the most significant advance in mental health in more than half a century” [3]

The man featured in the Post’s article, Dennis Hartman, experienced dramatic results by using ketamine.

“My life will always be divided into the time before that first infusion and the time after,” Hartman says today. “That sense of suffering and pain draining away. I was bewildered by the absence of pain.” [3]

Understanding the exact process occurring inside the brain, and why it is effective at treating depression has not been confirmed. According to one theory cited from WebMD, “ketamine prompts the regrowth of connections between braincells that are involved in mood.”

If depression is a result of faulty connections in the brain, then treatment that generates active, good-mood thoughts may also be beneficial. Consistently doing simple things like walking in nature have shown to have an effect on preventing depression.

A study done by a team of researches from Stanford University suggest that walking in a nature-like environment helps reduce negative though patterns, or as they put it, “a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought that is associated with heightened risk for depression and other mental illnesses.” ” [4]

In other words, when you walk around in a sun-lit forest its easy to feel like a kid again and not feel trapped or worried by some invisible burden.

In my opinion, chronic depression or falling into reoccurring bouts of abnormal sadness is not only the fault of the kind of environment somebody is in, but also the individuals daily thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Part of it is controlling what you allow yourself to think and monitoring the
information you let into your internal landscape.

But despite being able to properly deal with negative thoughts, there is a statement to be made about the importance of interpersonal connections in preventing depression; i.e. having friends to talk with or people that care about your well-being. For various reasons, some people are not quite fortunate to have this support.

I watched some of the BBC documentary, The Age of Loneliness, a few weeks ago (I can’t find a working video to link). The documentary highlights how older couples may end up living an extremely lonely life after their spouse passes. It also touches on how younger people can feel isolated when moving away to college even while being surrounded by people.

Humans are naturally inclined to want personal relationships. Our ancestors could not survive without working with one another. We are inherently social. It is a reason why people join clubs, sororities, and fraternities. So if you don’t feel a sense-of-belonging or that you are part of a group, life can become lonely, which in turn can breed depression.

In the past people were automatically included into the group and usually never left out.Think pre-capitalistic communities where-in the community would work togetherto produce all the trappings needed to survive. There were roles given to you. Your jobwas clearly set. The young girls would gather berries or make bread, while their fatherplowed the fields because it was easier for him to do that. And you’d likely have the same friends your whole life and die surrounded by many children.

Now, I am not saying being a peasant was easy, they worked hard; I wouldn’t trade places.I’m saying that pre-capitalistic societies did not feel lonelinesslike how modern societies may. The reason is that it is easier for modern familial communities to dissolve and leave individuals isolated. And that being isolated is an unnatural human condition which can contribute to adverse mental health conditions like depression.

Like mentioned earlier, there is not one cause of depression. It is an ambiguous problem that people deal with and hopefully can overcome. As a society we can take actions to prevent it. I think a form of optional screening for adults would ultimately help. And that drugs like ketamine are viable in some cases. But I also think that the environment somebody is consistently exposed to, whether or not it makes the individual feel included, 
plays a part in preventing depression.

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[1] Neighmond, Patti. “Depression Screening Recommended For Pregnant Women, New Mothers.” NPR. NPR, 26 Jan. 2016. Web. 02 Feb. 2016.

[2] Smith, Stacey. “How A Machine Learned To Spot Depression.” NPR. NPR, 20 May 2015. Web. 02 Feb. 2016.

[3] Solovitch, Sara. “Onetime Party Drug Hailed as Miracle for Treating Severe Depression.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 1 Feb. 2016. Web. 02 Feb. 2016. [Reddit Comments]

[4] KHAZAN, OLGA. “How Walking in Nature Prevents Depression.The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 30 June 2015. Web. 02 Feb. 2016.