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In the past thirty years our understanding of the biology of depression has expanded enormously. We now know that depression and many other mental disorders actually have major biological and genetic components. Once this was discovered people assumed this would lower the stigma associated with mental illness. This has been true to a certain extent, but unfortunately this increased awareness about the biological components of mental disorders has now led many to think that people with these conditions aren’t likely to get any better, that any change in their condition is outside their control. This is referred to as prognostic pessimism.

A recent study was recently done on 454 adults in the U.S., with half of them receiving an educational video discussing research done on the biology of depression and other mental disorders. These participants received information on how the genes and brain chemistry that influences depression can be changed by certain forms of treatment, such as psychotherapy. The other half of the participants in the study did not receive this information or intervention. For the participants whose beliefs were weak regarding the influence biology has on depression, the intervention or information had no effect. But, after viewing the video, the participants who believed strongly that biology does influence depression were much more optimistic about their own ability to deal with negative moods and prognosis for the future.

These findings still held true six weeks after these participants had viewed the video. This study’s findings are noteworthy because people who possess strong beliefs regarding the biology of depression are not likely to believe that non-medical types of treatment can be of any help to them. Being pessimistic about your own prognosis is associated to poorer outcomes for treatment. Brief interventions teaching patients about how treatment can affect the biology of their depression may help people to become more optimistic about treatment and more willing to engage in it.

This study reveals that someone’s beliefs about the biology of depression can be changed by simple actions. When you consider research that shows the value of offering a compelling rationale for treatment and that it can change people’s expectations for treatment just by viewing a simple educational video, there seems to be more evidence that people can be persuaded to believe that psychotherapy can have a positive effect on mood.

Furthermore, these brief, but strong interventions might be especially useful for certain types of people  (people who were the most pessimistic about whether psychosocial intervention could have an effect on their biologically-based depression). In fact, this research study reveals that patients’ expectations regarding treatment response, which is based on their own beliefs about the biology of depression, can indeed be changed in a way that is beneficial to their overall treatment and outcome.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, help is available in numerous treatment modalities.  If you would like to learn more about our intensive outpatient treatment program in Memphis, TN, please visit our website.

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