Will there ever be a cure for depression?

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Page last updated: 10/11/2022

Will there ever be a cure for depression?

In this blog we will attempt to answer the question “Will there ever be a cure for depression?” based on recent research.

We will also briefly discuss what depression is, why there is no cure as of yet, and what can be done to treat and manage depression. 

Will there ever be a cure for depression?

As of 2022, researchers and experts in the field of psychiatry and psychology agree that there is no one time cure for depression and it is unlikely that there will be one in the immediate future. 

Current research and reviews point towards long term treatment- pharmacological, psychotherapy, or alternate medicine- as an option to improve the symptoms of depression and minimise the impact it has on one’s life. 

While these treatments do not cure depression in one go, it does ease the impact the symptoms have on your life so that you are able to live a healthy and fruitful life. 

The reason why experts refrain from using the term “cure” when it comes to mental health disorders is because the word “curve” suggests a definite end to the disorder where for disorders like depression- they come in episodes. 

Depression, in terms of clinical depression, occur in terms of episode which a high chance of relapse in later life. 

This is why some mental health professionals as well as the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) describe recovery from depression symptoms as “remission” since there is a likelihood that depression might eventually return.

When it comes to research related to the recurrence and treatment of depression, there is conclusive evidence that depression is highly likely to reoccur. 

According to a 2018 meta-analysis and review of literature to understand the risk factors for relapse and recurrence of depression in adults, the study has found that within the general population, one third of people with depression will have more than one episode while in clinical samples, the risk for multiple episodes is more than 75%

This is also similar to an older research that was done in the past decade on the Risk for Recurrence in Depression. The 2007 review of studies have found that at least half of all people with depression will have more than one episode and the risk of relapse is higher for people who have already had a release. 

Now, researchers do agree that while depression has a high chance of recurrence, it does not mean that relapse is certain. It once suggests that depression cannot be “cured” indefinitely as per today’s standards of treatment. 

What is Depression?

Depression or clinically known as major depressive disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders, is a  serious mood disorder where people affected by it experience persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. 

Apart from these symptoms of emotional distress, people with depression can also experience physical symptoms such as chronic pain, or changes in their behaviour such as social withdrawal or slowed movements.

For someone to be diagnosed with clinical depression, symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. Let us look at the various symptoms that must meet the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. 

The Diagnostic and statistical manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed) DSM-V outlines the following criterion to make a diagnosis of depression. 

The individual must be experiencing five or more symptoms during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms should be either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure. 

These symptoms should indicate change from normal functioning. 

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day- either by their own observation or observation made by others.
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia. 
  • A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

To be diagnosed with depression, these symptoms must cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. 

These symptoms should also not be the result of substance abuse or another medical condition.

Will there ever be a cure for depression?

Why is there no cure for depression?

If we consider the question why, with today’s technology and advancement in science, we have not figured out a cure for depression, we will need to understand the perspectives that the field of psychiatry has adapted in view of depression. 

While many experts say that the lack of funding is one of the deterrents for finding a cure, while it may be true, Jonathan Rottenberg, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of South Florida notes that the biomedical approach to depression is limiting. 

He notes that while researchers and experts of the field has viewed depression as a biomedical illness, there is still no evidence of a fundamental defect in the brain that explains depression. 

He notes that the time, funds, and research that has been committed to understanding “where” in the brain is the defect that is causing depression is fundamentally wrong. 

He notes that there is a need for researchers to view depression as a byproduct of evolution not only in terms of the brain structures but also the mechanisms of our mental processes that have yet to adapt to the present day environment. 

Rottenberg suggests that there needs to be an equal investmentment in research related to psychosocial factors and evolutionary factors to understand and treat depression and not just a biomedical model. 

There is still much to be learned about the brain and mental disorders, to take a stance that suggests that depression only has to do with biomedical mechanisms would cause major setbacks to the development of a potential cure. 

Instead what Rottenberg and many other experts suggest is to develop a multicausal model of depression that aids in designing a treatment model that takes into account both pharmacological as well as therapeutic stance for the treatment of depression.

What are the treatments for depression?

As of recent years the various treatments for depression include:

  • Medications prescribed by a physician such as Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), Tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants, Noradrenaline and dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs), Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). 

Each of these medications have potential side effects and should be taken under clear tested diagnosis and guidance of a medical professional.

  • Psychotherapy also known as talk therapy involves effective treatment where a person with disorder speaks to a trained therapist to help them identify and cope with their condition. 

Psychotherapy has many forms and techniques, which might take some time for a person with disorders to figure out what is best for them, However evidence suggests that CBT is one of the most effective treatments for depression.

  • Combined treatment of psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals have been found to be more effective than either stand-alone treatments for MDD. 
  • Light therapy is a form of treatment used in tandem with psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals where people are exposed to doses of white light in the face of major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is used for people with severe depression and as a last resort when other forms of treatment have not worked out. Here, people with depression are treated with electrical currents that induce seizures, which has been found to be helpful for clinical depression. However, like other treatments, this form also has various side effects. 
  • Alternative therapies alongside traditional psychotherapy and medication such as meditation for stress and anxiety can help reorient patterns of responses to depression triggers. Acupuncture is also another form of alternative therapies for depression. 

What can be done to treat depression?

A few things that we can do on an individual’s level to manage and maintain our mental health include:

Seek out therapeutic care

Understanding your condition and diagnosis and Engaging with a therapist, being diligent with your medication, and making the changes you need to make to get better will determine your prognosis.

Your therapist will help you understand what is happening to you, might prescribe you medication if needed, and can help you tap into your own strengths that can help you adapt to challenges, changes, and overcome them.

Join a support group

Another thing you can do for yourself is to join a support group of people struggling with depression so that you can experience emotional support first hand within these communities and over time learn how to manage your challenges by learning from each other. 

By joining a group that is open, empathetic, and growing towards healing, you and your experiences can be an excellent sense of support to someone else who is also in their early part of their journey. 

Focus on self care

Take time to eat well, rest well, exercise, give time to yourself to think and engage in things you used to like doing before you started working- be it reading comics, or playing video games, or walking your pet.

Take effort to engage in things that you love doing, explore new activities if you feel like it and explore the world around you. 

Conclusion

In this blog we will attempt to answer the question “Will there ever be a cure for depression?” based on recent research.

We will also briefly discuss what depression is, why there is no cure as of yet, and what can be done to treat and manage depression. 

FAQ related to will there be a cure for depression?

Is there a permanent cure for depression?

No there is no permanent cure for depression as of yet however there is plenty of effective treatment for depression. 

Is permanent depression possible?

Yes permanent depression does exist in the form of dysthymia- also known as persistent depressive disorder.

How long does depression last?

Depression can last from a few months to years depending on the diagnosis. For a depressive episode, with the right treatment, it can last for a few months and recede gradually with the right treatment. 

References

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Higuera. V, Everything You Need to Know About Depression (Major Depressive Disorder), Healthline, November 16th, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression

Jonathan Rottenberg. Why There Will Be No Cure for Depression. HuffPost. Retrieved on 28th March 2022. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-there-will-be-no-cure-for-depression_b_4824289

Is There a ‘Cure’ for Depression? Healthline. Retrieved on 28th March 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/can-you-cure-depression

Buckman JEJ, Underwood A, Clarke K, Saunders R, Hollon SD, Fearon P, Pilling S. Risk factors for relapse and recurrence of depression in adults and how they operate: A four-phase systematic review and meta-synthesis. Clin Psychol Rev. 2018 Aug;64:13-38. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2018.07.005. Epub 2018 Jul 29. PMID: 30075313; PMCID: PMC6237833.

Burcusa SL, Iacono WG. Risk for recurrence in depression. Clin Psychol Rev. 2007;27(8):959-985. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2007.02.005