A terrible disease

Originally appeared at: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/health/terrible+disease/3434608/story.html Depression won’t kill you but the effects of it might. There is a dangerous period, sometimes two weeks to a few months, at the beginning of a depressive episode, when the new and painful and seemingly unending feeling of despair is so profound that some sufferers consider suicide. The power of the disease is such that it can push a seemingly healthy person into committing the ultimate act of self-destruction. The onset period of the disease is especially risky because conventional antidepressants take at least two weeks to become active. Since about 17 per cent of the populace will suffer from a major depression in their lifetime (and more will have minor ones), there has long been an imperative to find an immediate treatment. Now Yale University researchers have discovered that one dose of the drug ketamine can lessen the effects of depression within 40 minutes. This could result in the development of fast-acting antidepressants, something health professionals have been seeking for many years. Ketamine has been a street drug sold in a powdered form that, like LSD, can produce hallucinations. But in the treatment of depression, one Yale researcher called it “a magic drug.” Not only does ketamine work quickly on depression, it can also reverse the damage on the brain caused by chronic stress. Researchers are now working on versions of the drug that can mitigate the effects of depression while also minimizing the risk of abuse and dependency. Locally, the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre has been using ketamine on some patients in low doses that avoid the hallucinations associated with the drug’s recreational use. Depression can kill and it afflicts huge numbers of people, yet for decades it has been a kind of secret ailment owing to social stigma. Research such as that into ketamine reminds us that depression is a disease, not a character weakness, and that sufferers deserve to be treated openly and without shame, no different from anyone else with a medical condition. An article discussing the new research conducted at Yale University which suggested that ketamine might be effective in treating people with depression.