But there’s more to the right side cortical thinning. The researchers also conducted tests on social memory and social attention, such as how well the subjects could remember faces or scenes around a dinner table. They found that people with cortical thinning on the right side scored lower on these tests.
“We think ultimately that’s what predisposes people to being vulnerable to developing depression-- is that you have these problems with attention and memory for social stimuli,” says Peterson. “And that kind of cuts you off or leaves you disconnected a bit and not processing emotions and social relationships very well.”
Peterson says this pattern of thinning is distinct from that of other disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. He is hopeful that further research will lead to more customized treatments for depression and ultimately ways to prevent it altogether. However, Peterson cautions that at this stage, this type of brain scan is still in the experimental stage.
Peterson hopes that this kind of research will also change the way mental disorders are perceived by some.
“There's still enormous stigma attached to them and to having them— and even having family members who have them," says Peterson. “And it really is unfortunate. It’s terrible because there are many other brain disorders that we don’t hold people accountable for—having Parkinson’s, or Huntington’s, or epilepsy. But all too often society does hold people accountable for having a psychiatric illness. And they ought not to because this is as biologically based as those other conditions.”
PUBLICATION: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 14, 2009
RESEARCH FUNDED BY: National Institute of Mental Health, National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Affective Disorders, National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Sackler Institute at Columbia University, and the Suzanne Crosby Murphy Endowment at Columbia University
Elsewhere on the Web:
Information on depression -from National Institute of Mental Health
Information for children on depression -from Kids Health
Drug options for depression -from WebMD