Best of 2023 Research Stories

We have just said goodbye to 2023 and in the spirit of starting fresh, a “best of” list feels appropriate.  It’s satisfying to see what a year can produce in insights, and though it’s always easy to bemoan the scarcity in mental health research investment, it’s important to recognize the progress being made in spite of it.  2023 saw new evidence of connection between mental health and the pandemic, air pollution, food, and mindfulness along with fresh discoveries about depression triggers and genetics.  My top 10 below!

Researchers will be working for decades to understand the impacts of the pandemic on mental health, but 2023 increased our present knowledge.  

One study supported the existence of a particular toll on adolescents, comparing young people with their pre-pandemic peers and finding worsened mental health and accelerated brain development among the former.  Another study found that people who contracted covid in its ‘first wave’  were more likely than other sufferers to report depressive symptoms 13 months later. 

Generally speaking, we know mental and physical health are connected.  Poor mental health is often correlated with common ailments.  A study showed this to be true: seriously mentally ill people are twice as likely as their peers to suffer from multiple physical complaints.  

For years, doctors have been careful when prescribing hormonal birth control for women with mental health histories because it can negatively impact mood.  A new study observed an opposite effect, noting women taking the pill were less likely than peers to report symptoms of depression,  

Air pollution is increasingly recognized as an important environmental risk factor for mental health.  Data remains fairly limited but one study produced some significant findings, connecting long-term exposure to low levels of air pollution and increased risk of depression and anxiety. 

We know disorders like depression and anxiety are partly genetic but less information exists on postpartum depression’s heritability.  New insight into PPD‘s genetic origins came from a UNC-led team of researchers.   

Antidepressants have been around since the 1950s but exactly how and why they work remains fairly shrouded in mystery.  A new study showed the drugs interacting with memory, reducing negative ones while also improving overall memory in a group of 18-35 year olds.

A review of thirteen similar studies showed that adults who participated in In-person mindfulness classes reported less symptoms of anxiety and depression for at least six months. 

More insight into the genetic roots of depression and anxiety came from a study showing Glycine, a common amino acid, responsible for issuing ‘slow down’ signals to the brain.  These signals caused increased mental health distress, identifying a brand new biological trigger.

Another team also uncovered genetic causality in depression, focusing on a gene called LHPP.  The study showed increased expression of LHPP in mice aggravated depressive symptoms, opening up some potential new avenues for addressing treatment resistant depression.

That’s all…see you back here next month!

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