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It’s interesting to see how depression is being approached overseas. In Scotland, the government is attempting to cut down on antidepressant prescriptions, recommending GPs prescribe a program of exercise, and reading self-help material. Patients are only to be prescribed antidepressants after the exercise and reading hasn’t worked (link). While going for a run and having a read isn’t going to work for everyone – like any form of treatment – it’s promising to see the acknowledgement for holistic treatments for depression.

In New Zealand, the equivalent is the Green Prescription, where free support is provided to help people get more exercise.

A recent study (cited here) questions whether drug trials assessing antidepressants relate to the people who actually use them. Such trials often involve individuals with more severe depression, who don’t have any other comorbidities. The problem is this isn’t often who the drugs end up getting prescribed for:

After assessing 2,855 patients treated with citalopram, a commonly prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor for mood disorders, study authors concluded that fewer than one in four, or 22.2 percent, of the patients met the usual criteria for inclusion in phase III antidepressant trials.

So hopefully this research will lead to more trials being done on a more representative sample, so people can be more informed about how effective different drugs are for a more general population. The lesson for Doctors – and anyone looking up research – is to be aware of who are in the drug trials, and whether this is generalizable to other people. Because antidepressants are effective for some people, but it’s important to know who those people are.

Continuing on from the previous post, we look at some research performed by the positive psychology movement. One of their main areas of research is how to make yourself happier. One study (which is summarized in the latter half of this document) looked at the effectiveness of internet based interventions on happiness.

People did a number of activities online, and their happiness and depression was measured over the next six months. For a lot of the exercises, happiness went up (and depression went down) immediately after the activities, but then returned to normal over the next few months. However, for two activities, there was an increase every each month for six months.

The two that caused an increase in happiness over the six months were: ‘using signature strengths’, and ‘three good things’. These were as follows:

  • Three good things in life. Each night, people would write down three things that went well in the day, and write down an explanation for why this had happened.
  • Using signature strengths in a new way. People took an online test to identify character strengths.  They received information about their top five strengths, and were asked to use one of these strengths in a new way each day for a week. (The online test can be found here – free registration required)

(Note, the increase in happiness was greater for people who continued these activities for longer than the week.)

So there you have it. Two ways that have been scientifically shown to improve happiness. So here’s a challenge for you. Why not give it a shot? Spend a short time each night for a week doing one of the two activities, and chances are you’ll be happier by the end of the week. What have you got to lose?

May 2009
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