Friday, April 4, 2008

Beyond Blue: Does Depression Shrink Your Brain?

For this week's "How Do You Move Beyond Blue?" segment, I have reprinted a fascinating article by James Potash, associate professor of psychiatry and co-director of the Mood Disorders Program (where I graduated with the help of Dr. Smith) at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. More and more research is showing that the brain actually shrinks with severe depression, and that is all the more reason to arrest it as soon as possible. For the ABC special report, click here. I have excerpted most of it below.

Laura, whose name was changed for confidentiality, said she knew she needed help when she started thinking that death would be preferable to living with the kind of misery and pain she felt, even though she had two young sons whom she loved dearly.

So she went to see a psychiatrist, and he diagnosed major depression and prescribed an antidepressant medication, along with weekly psychotherapy. She took the prescription, and returned the following week, reporting that she had filled it, but could not bring herself to take the pills. She felt that needing to rely on pills reflected a kind of weakness, and she wanted to be strong enough to fight this on her own.

Laura is not alone. Only 25 percent to 50 percent of patients take antidepressants consistently for the length of time recommended by their doctors.
While this is an important issue for short-term health, it may also be important for the longer term, because there is some evidence that depression shrinks the brain _ no, it is not the psychiatrists who are the "head shrinkers!" _ and that antidepressants might put the brakes on this process.

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