Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a severe mood disorder that includes mood dysregulation and cognitive impairment. It is estimated that 16 million adults in the U.S. (6.9% of the population suffered from major depression in the past year and affects females (8.4%) to a great extent than males (5.2%). It is second-leading cause of disability in the world following heart disease.
The usual treatment of choice for MDD is drug treatment. In fact, it is estimated that 10% of the U.S. population is taking some form of antidepressant medication. But a substantial proportion of patients (~40%) do not respond to drug treatment. In addition the drugs can have nasty side effects. So, there is need to explore other treatment options. Mindfulness meditation is a safe alternative that has been shown to be effective for major depressive disorder even in individuals who do not respond to drug treatment. (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/dealing-with-major-depression-when-drugs-fail/ ).
In today’s Research News article “The effect of body-mind relaxation meditation induction on major depressive disorder: A resting-state fMRI study”
Chen and colleagues explore potential brain mechanisms for meditation effects on depression. They observed neural activity in patients with MDD before and after a mindfulness meditation exercise. They observed decreased activity in the frontal pole and increased connectivity between the right side dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (r-dmPFC) and both the left side dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (l-dlPFC) and the left side orbitofrontal cortex (l-OFC).
The frontal pole area of the brain has been shown to be heavily involved in evaluation, monitoring, or manipulation of internally generated information, basically thinking without an external referent. One of the characterizing features of depression is rumination, which is a repetitive thought pattern involving worry about past troublesome events. Hence rumination comprises negative internal thoughts without external referents. This has the effect of amplifying the depression as worry about depression produces more depression which produces worry about the depression, etc. So, decreased activity of the frontal pole would signal that after meditation there is a reduced tendency for rumination. This suggests that meditation may in part reduce depressive symptoms by reducing frontal pole meditated rumination.
The increased connectivity between the r-dmPFC and both the l-dlPFC and the (l-OFC is significant as these areas have been implicated in cognitive reappraisal, a strategy to regulate emotions by reinterpreting their meaning from a negative interpretation to a more positive one. For example rather than the feeling surrounding an emotion signaling that the individual is upset and unhappy, it is reinterpreted to mean that the individual is sensitive and empathetic toward other people. So, meditation by improving communications between these areas helps the individual to better and more positively interpret the feeling that they’re experiencing, moving them away from thoughts about depression toward thoughts about more uplifting characteristics.
Hence it appears that even a brief meditation practice can alter the activity of the brain in such a way as to relieve depression.
So, meditate and induce your brain to relieve depression.