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As part of mental health awareness month, we are posting about the increases in our understanding about the causes of depression and how biology influences mental disorders. This knowledge and understanding has emerged in the past several decades and now many people accept that depression and other types of mental disorders can be partially due to genetic causes and that neurotransmitters in the brain have a role. When this information started to become more widely known, many thought this mental health awareness would help lower the stigma on mental disorders.

While this may be true to a certain extent, another aspect of this increased awareness of how biology may contribute to mental disorders is that many now wonder that if the causes of depression can be tied to our neurotransmitters, then maybe there is no help for depression. Does this mean that depression is not within the control of the person? The truth is that past research has revealed that when someone suffering from depression knows that biology and/or genetics plays a role, this belief can cause him or her to be pessimistic about their prognosis.

An online survey was conducted in 2015 of adults in the U.S. There were 454 people who participated in the survey. Half the participants watched an educational video about research being done on how biology influences mental disorders. They learned about how the biology of the brain and certain genes that contribute to depression can be changed through somatic as well as non-somatic treatments such as psychotherapy.

The participants got information on the malleability of the biological components in depression, which included a book on how people’s genes can be “switched on and off” as a result of life experiences. They also learned how the chemistry of the brain and its activity could be modified by experience, which includes psychotherapy. The participants who saw the video were asked to pen a short letter to someone suffering from depression, relaying the information from the video, to encourage them to look at the causes of depression “with new eyes.” The idea for this approach was to implement the “saying is believing” effect, which is that people tend to internalize points of views that they have advocated. The rest of the participants, the ones who didn’t see the video, did not get this “intervention.”

The participants who were not really convinced to begin with about how depression may be biologically determined, were not really affected by the intervention. But, after viewing the video, the participants who strongly believed that biochemistry could be one of the causes of depression, were more optimistic regarding their ability to deal with negative thoughts and moods and more optimistic regarding their own prognosis, now that they had learned about these other causes of depression. When these participants were questioned six weeks after seeing the video, these views still held true.

This study is noteworthy because people who strongly believe that biology is one of the causes of depression are not very likely to believe that psychotherapy offers any help. And when someone is pessimistic about his or her prognosis, it can lead to a poorer treatment outcome. Brief interventions like the one demonstrated in this study shows that when patients learn that treatment can affect biology, these patients become more optimistic about the process and more willing to accept treatment.

This study reveals that mental health awareness involving beliefs regarding depression being biological can be altered and people can learn that experiences, psychotherapy included, can have a positive effect on mood. This malleability intervention showed a significant reduction in prognostic pessimism, it also showed enhanced feelings of control, plus a lessening of general hopelessness. When the malleability of brain chemistry and genes is emphasized with regard to depression, this can lead to more optimism about the beliefs related to depression. Mental health awareness not only increases treatment acceptance, but also improves mood, so spread the word!

Because our treatment for depression relies on evidence based practices, our Intensive Outpatient Program shares many common methods with other successful treatment methods.  The foundation of our treatment program for relies on the principles of the stages of change, cognitive behavioral therapy, solution focused treatment, skills training and identifying repetitive dysfunctional behavioral relationship patterns to promote recovery from depression and other mental health disorders.

In fact, our Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the treatment of these disorders in seven peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our treatment center provides services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  It is also important to keep in mind that women and men often experience depression differently and therefore the presence of depression may also appear differently based on gender. If you or a loved one is showing signs of depression or anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan for depression that can result in recovery.  Treatment for depression and anxiety can be highly successful and people who have completed our program have resulted in our treatment program receiving very highly consumer satisfaction scores and reviewsCall us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.