The primary goal of Dr. Helen Mayberg's research is to define the brain mechanisms that are underlying major depression. She says that though much data about depression has been gathered, we still really don't know what causes depression. She is always looking for possible medical problems that once treated, will go away, taking the depression away as well.
Dr. Mayberg is a member of the Institute of Medicine. She also serves on NARSAD's Scientific Council.
(Transcribed from video interview)
What people don’t understand is that depression is a word used to describe a set of symptoms, and in psychiatry, that’s how we get information about what someone is experiencing. They tell us what their symptoms are, and when the symptoms fall into certain categories, then we make diagnoses.
But, in fact, there are many medical conditions that can produce feelings of depression and actually produce all the signs and symptoms. And so it is very important that actually other causes of the symptoms are evaluated, and particularly when someone has a first presenting set of symptoms, that’s the time it’s very, very critical to make sure that there isn’t something reversible going on because, in fact, primary depression without other causes is a condition we are trying to research. We don’t know what causes it.
We know that life stress can precipitate a depression, but generally in people who are vulnerable. We know that people can have a depression out of nowhere even though nothing in their life is particularly bad. We used to refer to that as endogenous depression. It’s sort of a chemical depression. All the terms are really bad because we really don’t know what causes depression.
That said, there are medical conditions where symptoms of a depression are prominent and finding those, just like someone can have memory problems, it might be Alzheimer’s disease or it might be that you are having memory problems because of an associated medical condition, and if that medical condition is treated, the memory problems go away.
Same thing with depression.