On the trail of depression
With a grant from the Lundbeck Foundation, Maria Semkovska, associate professor, Department of Psychology, will map factors that lead to depression. The hope is to find ways of better prevention.
Depression is a common, disabling and recurring mental disorder, that disproportionately affects women. For every man there are two women diagnosed with depression.
In average impacted people spend 21 % of their life in a depressed state, previous studies show.
After tremendous development in effective treatments in the 2nd half of the 20th century have been achieved, little progress has been made in improving treatment efficacy since the 1990s, with a majority of patients either relapsing within a year of a successful treatment or never fully recovering with the available therapies.
-Since the late 1990s there is no improvement in terms of how many people get better or stay better after being treated for depression, says Maria Semkovska, Associate Professor at Department of Psychology, University of Southern Denmark.
-There are many effective treatments on the short term, but with none having a success rate of above 60%, and all have similar rates of relapse.
Experts on the subject agree that more and better prevention is need instead of continually trying for better treatments.
Many factors involved
-Depression presents through many different combinations of symptoms, Maria Semkovska says.
It is caused by a complex interplay of risk factors (e.g., stress, memory problems) where constant gene-environment interactions lead to depression in a highly person-specific way.
This enormous heterogeneity impedes diagnosing individual risk and thus adapted prevention.
Grant to map symptoms, activities and abilities
The Lundbeck foundation has granted Maria Semkovska an Ascending Investigator Award to develop models mapping how everyday symptoms (e.g., lack of sleep, loneliness) interact through time with the person’s activities, mental abilities (e.g., attention, memory) and life events to lead to depression.
Her previous research has shown lin how stressful life events can lead to depression and, in a large meta-analysis of 252 studies of people recovered from depression published in Lancet Psychiatry has demonstrated that people’s concentration and memory problems remain after mood has normalised.
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Through preliminary pilot studies she led also suggested that fatigue and decreased sleep in recovered from depression people can lead to increased depressive symptoms, potentially triggering a new depressive episode.
-However, all these methodologies only allow for the study of a limited number of factors at the same time. The current project permits to consider all these factors concurrently to determine how they lead to depression.
Hope to identify people at risk
Existing Danish Twin Registry data will be used to determine paths to depression and the contribution of genes; that is, if identical twins follow the same path to depression.
Similar models will be derived from following prospectively people who have recently recovered from depression to explain the differences between those who remain recovered and those who return to a depressive state.
The effect of gender on depression’s occurrence, recurrence and recovery will be evaluated in all models.
-The goal is that this project will help identify people at risk of becoming depressed and, in this way, help develop personalised prevention strategies.
Meet the researcher
Maria Semkovska's previous research has shown lin how stressful life events can lead to depression and, in a large meta-analysis of 252 studies of people recovered from depression published in Lancet Psychiatry has demonstrated that people’s concentration and memory problems remain after mood has normalised.
The 11 projects are all within the neuroscientific spectrum, neurology, or psychiatry, and in their selection they have been assessed to be able to make significant contributions within the research related to the brain and nervous system and potentially in the treatment of brain disorders.