Can depression be prevented? US neuroscientist’s new drug may do wonders

Depression, according to Merriam Webster, is “a mood disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping.” There are mainly two ways to treat it – antidepressants and behavioral therapies – or a combination of both can be used. However, no one had been able to find a scientific way to prevent the occurrence of depression.

In what could be one of the biggest discoveries in the field of mental health treatment, a 34-year-old neuroscientist has been working on developing a drug that increases resilience to stress. As the exposure to stress can cause depression, the new drug could help prevent this serious mental health condition. At a TED conference on April 24, 2017, Dr. Rebecca Brachman told the audience that she might have helped discover a drug that could make people more resilient under the most stressful circumstances.

“Imagine a scenario where we know someone is predictively at high risk for exposure to extreme stress. Say, a Red Cross volunteer going into an earthquake zone. In addition to the typhoid vaccine, we could give her an injection of a resilience enhancer before she leaves, so when she is held at gunpoint by looters or worse, she will be protected against developing depression or PTSD,” Brachman said.

“It won’t prevent her from experiencing the stress, but it allows her to recover from it. That’s what’s revolutionary here. By increasing resiliency, we can dramatically reduce her susceptibility to depression and PTSD,” the neuroscientist, co-founder of the startup Paravax, said.

Accidental discovery

In 2014, while studying emotional behavior in mice, Brachman accidentally stumbled upon the drug that can be developed as a vaccine to prevent depression and PTSD. Talking about the drug, Brachman, called it “a whole new field-preventative psychopharmacology.”

As per Brachman, she had given ketamine, a drug also known as special-K, to some mice. However, as the drug is known to wear off in a few hours in the mice and due to lack of funds, she ended up using the same lab mice to study their resilience under chronic stress conditions. According to her, mice that had previously taken the drug were found to be completely immunized from the symptoms experienced post being put through several weeks of major stress-inducing scenarios. After running the scenarios again and again, she discovered that the drug ketamine seemed to enhance the stress resilience of mice that was enough to ward off triggers damaging their mental health.

Brachman hopes that her research not only drives interest, but also adds to the growing conversation around mental health stigma. The neuroscientist at Columbia University plans to test the drug on humans next year. The drug would be designed to help those at risk of developing severe symptoms due to a stressful job or experience. While the discovery may not be an ideal vaccine, it could be a possibility to prevent mental health problems.

Managing stress through lifestyle interventions

Brachman also revealed her secret formula to halt mental issues. She noted that in addition to discovering techniques for stress resilience, lifestyle interventions could also help manage the symptoms. According to her, the secret formula to ward off mental disorders includes having a healthy diet, regular exercise, enough sleep and engaging in social support. In her experiment with stressed-out mice, she found exercise to be almost as robust as drugs in managing their mental health.

According to the scientist, this secret formula is the cheapest and the easiest way to beat mental health issues and live a stress-free life. However, she made it clear that people should seek medical help if they are suffering from a serious mental illness.

Help at hand

Although a healthy lifestyle could help reduce stress and prevent some mental health illnesses, for those suffering from any mental disorder, it is imperative to get immediate professional help. If you know someone suffering from any mental health problem, help him or her get the essential treatment at a certified treatment facility.

Contact the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline to get access to one of the best mental health facilities near you. Speak to one of our mental health counselors at our 24/7 helpline number 855-653-8178 or chat online to find one of the best mental health rehabilitation centers in the U.S.