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Rethinking Depression Treatment

Many of the 121 million people worldwide suffering from depression may need to rethink their prescriptions.  A new study by psychology professor Robert J. DeRubeis and doctoral student Jay Fournier G’05 suggests that antidepressant medication may be an ineffective treatment for patients with only mild or moderate symptoms.  The study, which evaluated six drug trials, found that while patients suffering from severe depression experienced a much steeper decline in symptoms when treated with an antidepressant rather than a placebo, the drugs had a “nonexistent to negligible” effect on patients suffering from mild or moderate depression. 

The findings, published in a January issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, may cause a shift in thinking about depression, for which antidepressants are the standard treatment.  

“The message for patients with mild to moderate depression,” DeRubeis said, “is, ‘Look, medications are always an option, but there’s little evidence that they add to other efforts to shake depression—whether it’s exercise, seeing the doctor, reading about the disorder, or going for psychotherapy.’”

Tyler Russell C’11

BlackBerry Nation

BlackBerry buffs, Facebook fanatics, Twitterers: fear not. Your round-the-clock compulsion to BBM, wall post, and tweet isn’t turning America into a nation of socially isolated keyboard-punchers.  That’s according to a new study led by Keith Hampton of the Annenberg School, which challenges the notion that Internet users and cellphone addicts are cocooning themselves in the virtual realm.  Based on a survey of about 2,500 adults, Hampton and colleagues found that “in a typical month Internet users are nearly 50 percent more likely to visit public parks, cafes, and restaurants” than non-users. Cellphone users are 72 percent more likely than non-users to belong to a local voluntary group of some sort. Bloggers, meanwhile, are especially likely to visit public spaces and to participate in voluntary groups.

Broadly, the size of Americans’ “core discussion networks” has declined since 1985, though the survey suggests that the percentage of people who suffer true social isolation—those who report having no one with whom to discuss important matters—hasn’t changed.  Yet the researchers found that people who own a mobile phone and participate in various Internet activities had somewhat larger and more diverse personal networks.  Those who share photos online, for instance, were 61 percent more likely to have discussion partners that cross political lines.  Bloggers had a 95 percent higher likelihood of having a “cross-race discussion confidant.”  The study was part of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Despite widespread commentary on how the Internet can turn into a thousand echo chambers for the likeminded, Hampton contends that the rise of platforms like Facebook has had a more salubrious effect.  “In terms of network diversity,” he suggests, “the Internet offers most people a ‘net gain.’” 

Ted Rawlings C’11 and T.P.

The Cholesterol Cure: Got Cash?

Innovative cholesterol-reducing drugs such as statins may help save your life if you’re one of the millions of Americans at risk for cardiovascular disease—provided you can foot the expensive price tag, that is.  New research by Virginia W. Chang, an assistant professor of both medicine and sociology, concludes that since the introduction of statins, the decline in cardiovascular mortality among rich Americans has been double that among poor ones.  

The finding, published in the September issue of Journal of Health and Social Behavior, suggests that the drugs have been disproportionately adopted by the wealthy, leading to a new social disparity in cardiovascular health.

“High cholesterol was once known as a rich man’s disease,” Chang said, “because the wealthy had easier access to high fat foods (e.g., red meat).  Now wealthy Americans are least likely to have high cholesterol, because they are more likely to be treated with statins.” 

Tyler Russell C’11

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