Can Pure Grit Cure “Chronic Social Defeat Stress?”
Chronic social defeat stress is probably not a term you have heard of when the topic of depression comes up. I believe that the term is spot on when you hear about how depression is growing at an accelerated rate in our world. Yep, we have an epidemic on our hands, especially as more doctors are prescribing the “magic pills” such as opioids that for the most part are masking the depression symptoms. Not many people know that there is No endpoint that has been defined for the treatment of depression, making it hard for patients to know if they have been cured.
I read about this term in a 2018 Scientific Article entitled, CAN A PILL THAT BOOSTS “RESILIENCE” TREAT DEPRESSION? — A clinical trial tests a new way to reverse the psychiatric disorder. The article first talks about how many self-help books are out there that preach how we can beat this dark disorder with better diets, more exercise, and meditation and working on gaining resilience with pure grit. For many, especially those who are being fed opioids to reduce their anxiety and depression, many are not clear enough to have the sense of self needed to sit with SELF and work through these symptoms. Neuroscientists are learning the story is not quite so simple, and that some people are likely better equipped from birth to deal with adversity.
During the last 15 years, discoveries about why some brains excel at resisting stress have initiated a search for new drugs to treat depression and post-traumatic stress disorder by enhancing psychological resilience. One of these compounds has now entered early-stage clinical trials. If the drug is safe and works, it will undoubtedly encounter strong demand; depression—the world’s leading cause of mental disability—never enters full remission in more than half the patients treated with psychotherapies and existing antidepressants.
Looking inside the brains of animals exposed to chronic social defeat stress, the scientists observed hyperactive firing of neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a critical part of a reward circuit. When things go awry, this manic firing of cells in the VTA contributes to the lack of motivation experienced in depression.
New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital has become a nexus for resilience research, with studies conducted by several laboratories on both the psychology and neurobiology of adapting to stress. In 2014 pharmacologist and neuroscientist Ming-Hu Han and a group of his Mount Sinai colleagues published a paper in Science showing how out-of-whack electrical signaling in neurons populating the brain’s reward system could explain why some lab animals were susceptible to depression whereas others remained resilient.
TED Fellow Dr. Rebecca Brachman, a pioneer in the field of preventative psychopharmacology, is focusing on developing drugs to enhance stress resilience and prevent mental illness. She and a colleague accidentally discovered the first drugs, which they are calling resilience enhancers, that might prevent depression and PTSD. She explains stress resilience is the active biological process that allows us to bounce back after stress. Similar to if you have a cold and your immune system fights it off. And insufficient resilience in the face of a significant enough stressor can result in a psychiatric disorder, such as depression. In fact, most cases of major depressive disorders are initially triggered by stress. And from what clinical tests are seeing in mice, resilience enhancers can protect against purely biological stressors, like stress hormones, and social and psychological stressors, like bullying and isolation.
They discovered the drugs in mice, and are currently studying whether they work in humans. And these preventative psychopharmaceuticals are not antidepressants. The resilience enhancers are a whole new class of drug by increasing stress resilience. An example of how the resilience enhancers work is when they gave mice three weeks of high levels of stress hormones, otherwise known as a biological stressor without a psychological component. And this caused depressive behavior. When they gave three weeks of antidepressant treatment beforehand, it had no beneficial effects. But a single dose of a resilience enhancer given a week before completely prevented the depressive behavior. Even after three weeks of stress. This is the first time a drug has ever been shown to prevent the negative effects of stress.
Let’s hope that society is open to this new type of vaccine and that people will not have to rely on antidepressants to tame their anxiety and stress so the depression monster does not come knocking on their door next. I believe we have a lot of individuals out there who are tired, confused, and do not have the pure grit it takes to cope with and fight this dark psychiatric disorder. They need a way to be more resilient and hopeful, not drugged up and foggy. As I always preach, how can we be with SELF when SELF is taken away with medications that mask how we feel and therefore how we can learn to be with and regulate in a healthy we how we feel.