May 2018: Depression and Anxiety Research News Round-Up

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. If you've ever experienced mental health problems, you're certainly not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common, affecting 40 million people, or 18% of the population. Major depressive disorder affects 16.1 million Americans and is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people ages 15 to 44.

Many people who experience mental health problems don't seek treatment – only 36.9% of those living with an anxiety disorder receive treatment, for example.

For others, their anxiety, depression, or another condition doesn't respond well to treatment. Ten to 30% of people treated with antidepressants either don't improve, or show only a partial improvement in symptoms.

New research seeks to better understand the underlying causes of depression and find fresh approaches to depression and anxiety treatment.

Discovery of 44 genetic variants linked to depression opens path to new treatments

Scientists have identified 44 gene variants associated with an increased risk of developing depression, 30 of which had never been connected to depression before.

With so much more information on genetic risk factors, researchers hope to better understand why depression strikes some and not others who have the same life experience.

Not every variant brings the same genetic risk for depression. Those in the top 10% of people with the most risk factors are two-and-a-half times more likely to develop depression than those in the bottom 10%.

While these genes raise depression risk a moderate amount, the researchers say that there's not one single gene for depression.

Researchers say the findings will help develop new treatments for depression, particularly for treatment-resistant symptoms.

"With this study, depression genetics has advanced to the forefront of genetic discovery," Dr. Gerome Breen of the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London, who was involved in the study, said in a statement. "The new genetic variants discovered have the potential to revitalize depression treatment by opening up avenues for the discovery of new and improved therapies."

Cannabis extract for PTSD and other anxiety disorders

As marijuana has been legalized in more states, there's been increased interest in studying cannabis extract — cannabidiol, also known as CBD.

CBD fans say that taking it reduces anxiety symptoms without the high associated with marijuana. Now, clinical trials are investigating those claims.

One trial is testing whether CBD can help people with post-traumatic stress disorder who also have moderate or severe alcohol use disorder. The study will see if those who take CBD oil will drink less, and whether that will lead to an improvement in PTSD symptoms.

The CBD given to participants will differ from the kind available to the public in some states in that it will be pharmaceutical-grade. Researchers say it's more reliable in strength and purity.

A Phase 2 clinical trial will also explore whether CBD oil can help prevent relapse in people addicted to opioids by reducing cravings.

New brain stimulation technique may help treatment-resistant depression

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an approved therapy for treatment-resistant depression. The standard treatment uses high frequency, non-invasive brain stimulation during sessions that last around half an hour.

A recent study found that just 3-minute sessions with a new TMS approach are just as effective as the standard treatment, and may have the potential to expand the availability of the treatment option.

As the use of the therapy becomes more popular, waiting lists for it have grown. Shorter sessions may allow more patients to receive the treatment, researchers say.

If you're interested in finding a clinical trial for anxiety, depression, or another mental health problem, use our tool to search for trials near you that may be a match.