Our society has made commendable strides toward a more sensitive understanding of a previously vastly misunderstood condition, one that might have been, in days of yore, met with a snort of derision and a gruff “pull yourself together” that would send those suffering with depression deeper into a cycle from which it can feel like there is no escaping.
While many would argue that funding for mental health research is still vastly under weighted in comparison to the effect that mental illness has on our society – just because an illness is invisible, doesn’t mean that it is not tangible, not real.
Advancements in our comprehension of depression and related ailments have led to ever more sophisticated and effective methods of treatment, as well as an exponentially greater societal acceptance of those suffering with the condition – an amelioration that cannot be dismissed.
It is also heartening to consider that new methods of treating depression are being sought out and researched, as medical researchers look to gain a deeper understanding of the science behind mental illness. Rebecca Brachman is one such benevolent individual, and she thinks that she might have made something of a breakthrough.
Brachman is a 34-year-old neuroscientist at Columbia University, and believes that she has been successful in developing a new treatment that builds a kind of mental robustness that allows individuals to be subjected to harrowing events without having to relive it in an upsetting manner after the fact.
Back in 2014, as part of a wider study into the emotional behaviours of mice, Brachman administered ketamine to them – a drug that has long been considered a potential treatment for depression and related disorders. The use of mice in this study was significant, it is already known that the effects of ketamine on mice will wear off after just a few hours.
Several weeks later, Brachman returned to the mice, to carry out a study into the ways in which they would deal with stressful conditions. Excitingly, she found that the mice that had been administered the drug weeks early seemed ambivalent to the symptoms one would usually relate with the situations in which they were being placed.
Having conducted the experiment several times over, Brachman came to the conclusion that ketamine appeared to augment resilience to stress and bypass typical triggers that would, under normal circumstances, negatively impact the mental health of the mice.
What makes the findings particularly ground-breaking is the notion that the drug could be used as a prevention against PTSD and depression, rather than as a treatment once symptoms have already manifest themselves in an individual.
If the results are similarly encouraging in human clinical trials, Brachman envisages the drug’s potential usefulness in circumstances such as soldiers being administered it before entering potentially harrowing war zones, or aid workers before travelling to disaster areas.
If successful, the future of mental health care could turn toward prevention rather than cure. Brachman is currently developing her own version of the drug, and looks set to conduct trials on human subjects next year.
Here’s hoping she continues to break new ground on her march toward a brighter future for those suffering with their mental health.