The quest to discover a link between genetics and depression has been a long and arduous one. After two recent studies of 9,000 and 17,000 people with depression came up empty-handed, many people called Jonathan Flint stupid for attempting yet another study to examine the potential genetic ties to the common mental disorder. With a group of only 5,300, even Flint himself did not believe that the study would turn up anything.
“I thought, ‘There’s no way,” says Flint, but the English scientist would turn out to be wrong. In a study published in Nature, his team reported the first ever genetic links to serious depressive disorders. Scientists all over the world are ecstatic about these results.
Depression is a Serious Problem All Over the World
It is estimated that over 350 million people throughout the world suffer from depression. This is a growing and complicated trend. It is often left undiagnosed for a number of reasons. There is a certain social stigma surrounding depression that leaves many people reluctant to seek treatment.
It is also difficult to diagnose accurately. The symptoms and conditions can be much different depending on the person with the condition. Some people are adept at hiding their depression while others display it openly. Such is the case with many common mental disorders. As a large majority of the world lives in a place with less than two psychiatrists per every 100,000 people, it is often difficult for depressed people to find someone that could provide a diagnosis.
Many people believe the latest discoveries by Flint and his team could result in new drugs and better treatments for people suffering from depression. The current treatments are not always effective and sometimes leave people in worse conditions than they were in before treatment. The current options are also lengthy and most effective with prolonged use.
The Lead Scientist Found Inspiration From Failure
After the study that analyzed 17,000 people with depression failed, Flint decided a more intricate approach was needed for his study. Depression is often difficult to diagnose, so Flint and his team reasoned that they would need to look at a few thousand people to produce anything of value.
Flint decided to team up Kenneth Kendler from Virginia Commonwealth University. As a psychiatrist, Kendler has become renowned for his strong skills in diagnosing mental disorders.
Flint and his team decided to focus their search in China, where the disease is believed to be heavily under-diagnosed. They reasoned that if someone in China was diagnosed, they must have a severe form of the disorder that would rule out any chance for a misdiagnosis.
After looking at around 5,300 Chinese women that were diagnosed with depression, it was determined that 90% of them had a form of depression that has been coined melancholia. This particular condition robs people of their ability to feel joy, regardless of the circumstances.
The Majority of the Study’s Subjects, Who Were All Depressed, Shared Two Genes in Particular
Little is understood about one of the genes, but the other has been known to regulate energy-producing cell structures called mitochondria. Flint believes this connection makes sense, as many people that report being depressed often have symptoms of fatigue and lack of motivation.
It is expected that more studies will be needed to confirm the results that Flint produced as well as to help gain a greater understanding of what Flint’s results mean. The team hopes that their results will help to inspire other teams to take on similar studies. With so much failure previously, these new results could help to gather more knowledge and help find a better treatment for the debilitating mental disorder.
“We’ve had to learn not to listen to a lot of our critics,” says Flint. “If we listened to people telling us that what we’re doing is stupid, we would have stopped years ago.”