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New Complex Model of Depression May Lead to Better Treatment

New Complex Model of Depression May Lead to Better Treatment

Scientists have developed a new all-encompassing model for depression that takes into account the many factors that can contribute to the illness. The model provides a better understanding of depression and is the foundation for creating a pioneering tool to attack the complex disorder.

Depression is likely triggered by a variety of biological, psychological, social, and environmental drivers, and these factors often overlap, such as cortisol hormone levels increasing in response to stress from a troubled relationship or economic hardship. However, most research has focused on only one or two contributing factors, and not how the many factors intersect and unfold over time.

In a new study, scientists at Michigan State University (MSU) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) analyzed nearly 600 scientific articles on depression and incorporated the major drivers of depression discussed in the research into a complex model that essentially diagrams how one driver affects another. Depression drivers range from sleep problems to social isolation to brain inflammation.

“Clinicians who treat depression tend to work on a trial-and-error basis, whereas this model could give them a more systematic and effective method for making decisions about treatment,” said Andrea K. Wittenborn, associate professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies and lead investigator on the study. “Most importantly, this model provides a method for personalizing treatment to each unique patient.”

Study co-author Hazhir Rahmandad, an MIT scholar, is an expert in a process called system dynamics, a method typically used in engineering and business. The team used this approach to create a comprehensive model of depression. Although more research is needed, the model is a vital first step in better understanding depression and potentially improving care for the illness.

In fact, based on this more complex model of depression, therapists or even patients one day could enter depression triggers into a smartphone app and receive a recommendation for the most appropriate treatment.

This will be a welcome change, as even after decades of intervention, research, and public awareness efforts, depression remains a remarkably destructive public health problem. And although psychotherapy and antidepressants do bring relief to some people, response varies widely and only leads to meaningful improvement for about half of patients.

“This model opens the gate to understanding depression as it relates to the whole person and all of his or her experiences,” Wittenborn said. “It helps us understand how depression varies by person — because we know depression varies widely across people, and we think that has something to do with why treatment is not always effective.”

The findings of the study are published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

Source: Michigan State University

Man suffering with depression photo by shutterstock.

New Complex Model of Depression May Lead to Better Treatment

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). New Complex Model of Depression May Lead to Better Treatment. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 2 Dec 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.