Arquivo da tag: Depressão

How to mend your broken pandemic brain (MIT Technology Review)

Life under covid has messed with our brains. Luckily, they were designed to bounce back.

Dana Smith – July 16, 2021

Orgies are back. Or at least that’s what advertisers want you to believe. One commercial for chewing gum—whose sales tanked during 2020 because who cares what your breath smells like when you’re wearing a mask—depicts the end of the pandemic as a raucous free-for-all with people embracing in the streets and making out in parks. 

The reality is a little different. Americans are slowly coming out of the pandemic, but as they reemerge, there’s still a lot of trauma to process. It’s not just our families, our communities, and our jobs that have changed; our brains have changed too. We’re not the same people we were 18 months ago. 

During the winter of 2020, more than 40% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, double the rate of the previous year. That number dropped to 30% in June 2021 as vaccinations rose and covid-19 cases fell, but that still leaves nearly one in three Americans struggling with their mental health. In addition to diagnosable symptoms, plenty of people reported experiencing pandemic brain fog, including forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and general fuzziness. 

Now the question is, can our brains change back? And how can we help them do that?

How stress affects the brain

Every experience changes your brain, either helping you to gain new synapses—the connections between brain cells—or causing you to lose them. This is known as neuroplasticity, and it’s how our brains develop through childhood and adolescence. Neuroplasticity is how we continue to learn and create memories in adulthood, too, although our brains become less flexible as we get older. The process is vital for learning, memory, and general healthy brain function.

But many experiences also cause the brain to lose cells and connections that you wanted or needed to keep. For instance, stress—something almost everyone experienced during the pandemic—can not only destroy existing synapses but also inhibit the growth of new ones. 

One way stress does this is by triggering the release of hormones called glucocorticoids, most notably cortisol. In small doses, glucocorticoids help the brain and body respond to a stressor (think: fight or flight) by changing heart rate, respiration, inflammation, and more to increase one’s odds of survival. Once the stressor is gone, the hormone levels recede. With chronic stress, however, the stressor never goes away, and the brain remains flooded with the chemicals. In the long term, elevated levels of glucocorticoids can cause changes that may lead to depression, anxiety, forgetfulness, and inattention. 

Scientists haven’t been able to directly study these types of physical brain changes during the pandemic, but they can make inferences from the many mental health surveys conducted over the last 18 months and what they know about stress and the brain from years of previous research.

For example, one study showed that people who experienced financial stressors, like a job loss or economic insecurity, during the pandemic were more likely to develop depression. One of the brain areas hardest hit by chronic stress is the hippocampus, which is important for both memory and mood. These financial stressors would have flooded the hippocampus with glucocorticoids for months, damaging cells, destroying synapses, and ultimately shrinking the region. A smaller hippocampus is one of the hallmarks of depression. 

Chronic stress can also alter the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s executive control center, and the amygdala, the fear and anxiety hub. Too many glucocorticoids for too long can impair the connections both within the prefrontal cortex and between it and the amygdala. As a result, the prefrontal cortex loses its ability to control the amygdala, leaving the fear and anxiety center to run unchecked. This pattern of brain activity (too much action in the amygdala and not enough communication with the prefrontal cortex) is common in people who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), another condition that spiked during the pandemic, particularly among frontline health-care workers.

The social isolation brought on by the pandemic was also likely detrimental to the brain’s structure and function. Loneliness has been linked to reduced volume in the hippocampus and amygdala, as well as decreased connectivity in the prefrontal cortex. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who lived alone during the pandemic experienced higher rates of depression and anxiety.

Finally, damage to these brain areas affects people not only emotionally but cognitively as well. Many psychologists have attributed pandemic brain fog to chronic stress’s impact on the prefrontal cortex, where it can impair concentration and working memory.

Reversal time

So that’s the bad news. The pandemic hit our brains hard. These negative changes ultimately come down to a stress-induced decrease in neuroplasticity—a loss of cells and synapses instead of the growth of new ones. But don’t despair; there’s some good news. For many people, the brain can spontaneously recover its plasticity once the stress goes away. If life begins to return to normal, so might our brains.

“In a lot of cases, the changes that occur with chronic stress actually abate over time,” says James Herman, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati. “At the level of the brain, you can see a reversal of a lot of these negative effects.” 

“If you create for yourself a more enriched environment where you have more possible inputs and interactions and stimuli, then [your brain] will respond to that.”

Rebecca Price, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh

In other words, as your routine returns to its pre-pandemic state, your brain should too. The stress hormones will recede as vaccinations continue and the anxiety about dying from a new virus (or killing someone else) subsides. And as you venture out into the world again, all the little things that used to make you happy or challenged you in a good way will do so again, helping your brain to repair the lost connections that those behaviors had once built. For example, just as social isolation is bad for the brain, social interaction is especially good for it. People with larger social networks have more volume and connections in the prefrontal cortexamygdala, and other brain regions. 

Even if you don’t feel like socializing again just yet, maybe push yourself a little anyway. Don’t do anything that feels unsafe, but there is an aspect of “fake it till you make it” in treating some mental illness. In clinical speak, it’s called behavioral activation, which emphasizes getting out and doing things even if you don’t want to. At first, you might not experience the same feelings of joy or fun you used to get from going to a bar or a backyard barbecue, but if you stick with it, these activities will often start to feel easier and can help lift feelings of depression.

Rebecca Price, an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, says behavioral activation might work by enriching your environment, which scientists know leads to the growth of new brain cells, at least in animal models. “Your brain is going to react to the environment that you present to it, so if you are in a deprived, not-enriched environment because you’ve been stuck at home alone, that will probably cause some decreases in the pathways that are available,” she says. “If you create for yourself a more enriched environment where you have more possible inputs and interactions and stimuli, then [your brain] will respond to that.” So get off your couch and go check out a museum, a botanical garden, or an outdoor concert. Your brain will thank you.

Exercise can help too. Chronic stress depletes levels of an important chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps promote neuroplasticity. Without BDNF, the brain is less able to repair or replace the cells and connections that are lost to chronic stress. Exercise increases levels of BDNF, especially in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which at least partially explains why exercise can boost both cognition and mood. 

Not only does BDNF help new synapses grow, but it may help produce new neurons in the hippocampus, too. For decades, scientists thought that neurogenesis in humans stopped after adolescence, but recent research has shown signs of neuron growth well into old age (though the issue is still hotly contested). Regardless of whether it works through neurogenesis or not, exercise has been shown time and again to improve people’s mood, attention, and cognition; some therapists even prescribe it to treat depression and anxiety. Time to get out there and start sweating.

Turn to treatment

There’s a lot of variation in how people’s brains recover from stress and trauma, and not everyone will bounce back from the pandemic so easily.

“Some people just seem to be more vulnerable to getting into a chronic state where they get stuck in something like depression or anxiety,” says Price. In these situations, therapy or medication might be required.

Some scientists now think that psychotherapy for depression and anxiety works at least in part by changing brain activity, and that getting the brain to fire in new patterns is a first step to getting it to wire in new patterns. A review paper that assessed psychotherapy for different anxiety disorders found that the treatment was most effective in people who displayed more activity in the prefrontal cortex after several weeks of therapy than they did beforehand—particularly when the area was exerting control over the brain’s fear center. 

Other researchers are trying to change people’s brain activity using video games. Adam Gazzaley, a professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, developed the first brain-training game to receive FDA approval for its ability to treat ADHD in kids. The game has also been shown to improve attention span in adults. What’s more, EEG studies revealed greater functional connectivity involving the prefrontal cortex, suggesting a boost in neuroplasticity in the region.

Now Gazzaley wants to use the game to treat people with pandemic brain fog. “We think in terms of covid recovery there’s an incredible opportunity here,” he says. “I believe that attention as a system can help across the breadth of [mental health] conditions and symptoms that people are suffering, especially due to covid.”

While the effects of brain-training games on mental health and neuroplasticity are still up for debate, there’s abundant evidence for the benefits of psychoactive medications. In 1996, psychiatrist Yvette Sheline, now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was the first to show that people with depression had significantly smaller hippocampi than non-depressed people, and that the size of that brain region was related to how long and how severely they had been depressed. Seven years later, she found that if people with depression took antidepressants, they had less volume loss in the region.

That discovery shifted many researchers’ perspectives on how traditional antidepressants, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), help people with depression and anxiety. As their name suggests, SSRIs target the neurochemical serotonin, increasing its levels in synapses. Serotonin is involved in several basic bodily functions, including digestion and sleep. It also helps to regulate mood, and scientists long assumed that was how the drugs worked as antidepressants. However, recent research suggests that SSRIs may also have a neuroplastic effect by boosting BDNF, especially in the hippocampus, which could help restore healthy brain function in the area. One of the newest antidepressants approved in the US, ketamine, also appears to increase BDNF levels and promote synapse growth in the brain, providing additional support for the neuroplasticity theory. 

The next frontier in pharmaceutical research for mental illness involves experimental psychedelics like MDMA and psilocybin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms. Some researchers think that these drugs also enhance plasticity in the brain and, when paired with psychotherapy, can be a powerful treatment.

Not all the changes to our brains from the past year are negative. Neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of the book Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain, says that some of those changes may actually have been beneficial. By forcing us out of our ruts and changing our routines, the pandemic may have caused our brains to stretch and grow in new ways.

“This past 14 months have been full of tons of stress, anxiety, depression—they’ve been really hard on everybody,” Eagleman says. “The tiny silver lining is from the point of view of brain plasticity, because we have challenged our brains to do new things and find new ways of doing things. If we hadn’t experienced 2020, we’d still have an old internal model of the world, and we wouldn’t have pushed our brains to make the changes they’ve already made. From a neuroscience point of view, this is most important thing you can do—constantly challenge it, build new pathways, find new ways of seeing the world.”

How to help your brain help itself

While everyone’s brain is different, try these activities to give your brain the best chance of recovering from the pandemic.

  1. Get out and socialize. People with larger social networks have more volume and connectivity in the prefrontal cortexamygdala, and other brain regions.
  2. Try working out. Exercise increases levels of a protein called BDNF that helps promote neuroplasticity and may even contribute to the growth of new neurons.
  3. Talk to a therapist. Therapy can help you view yourself from a different perspective, and changing your thought patterns can change your brain patterns.
  4. Enrich your environment. Get out of your pandemic rut and stimulate your brain with a trip to the museum, a botanical garden, or an outdoor concert.
  5. Take some drugs—but make sure they’re prescribed! Both classic antidepressant drugs, such as SSRIs, and more experimental ones like ketamine and psychedelics are thought to work in part by boosting neuroplasticity.
  6. Strengthen your prefrontal cortex by exercising your self-control. If you don’t have access to an (FDA-approved) attention-boosting video game, meditation can have a similar benefit. 

Quase metade dos sobreviventes do último coronavírus teve transtornos mentais (Folha de S.Paulo)

Artigo original

Matheus Moreira – 12 de fevereiro de 2020

Entre 2002 e 2003, um coronavírus provocou pânico no mundo e quase 800 mortes pela Sars (síndrome respiratória aguda grave). Mas os estragos não pararam ali: quatro anos depois, 42% dos sobreviventes haviam desenvolvido algum transtorno mental. 

A maioria deles (54,5%) manifestou transtorno de estresse pós-traumático, e 39% tiveram depressão, de acordo com um estudo publicado em 2014 na revista especializada East Asian Arch Psychiatry.

O medo é comum em momentos de crise em saúde pública e, portanto, faz parte da resposta a epidemias, aponta outro artigo, publicado na semana passada na revista médica The Lancet e que trata dos impactos da nova epidemia de coronavírus para a saúde mental.

Segundo os autores, há poucos dados sobre o programa desenvolvido pelo governo chinês para acompanhamento e tratamento psicossocial de seus cidadãos, mas, por outro lado, há um extenso plano de “intervenção emergencial em crises psicológicas” para profissionais de saúde da China, fruto do aprendizado da epidemia da Sars.

A cartilha prevê o acompanhamento psicológico de grupos de risco entre os infectados e familiares para prevenção de comportamentos impulsivos e tendências suicidas, por exemplo. 

No dia 28 de janeiro, o governo chinês inaugurou uma linha direta para que os cidadãos possam ligar para requerer ajuda psicológica emergencial, outra forma de prevenir que o que aconteceu após a epidemia de Sars.

Pacientes infectados ou com suspeita de infecção podem manifestar, principalmente, medo das consequências de portar a doença. Já aqueles que estão em quarentena podem ter experiências que vão do tédio à solidão, incluindo acessos de raiva. 

Esses sentimentos e sintomas de sofrimento psíquico podem levar a transtornos de ansiedade, ataques de pânico, depressão, agitação psicomotora (movimentos indesejados devido ao estresse), delírio e suicídio. 

Os efeitos psicológicos de epidemias também podem afetar equipes em hospitais. Durante a Sars, os profissionais de saúde que participaram dos esforços contra a doença apresentaram transtorno de estresse pós-traumático, depressão, ansiedade, medo e frustração devido à possibilidade de serem contaminados e contaminarem familiares e amigos e à impossibilidade de salvar todos os pacientes atendidos.

Até a terça (11), mais de 43 mil pessoas foram infectadas pelo novo coronavírus e outras 1.018 morreram. A epidemia atual já superou a Sars em todos os níveis. 

Os dados são importantes e são atualizados diariamente como serviço à população, mas o excesso de informação pode levar ao medo, senão pânico, segundo o artigo. 

Ana Bock, professora de psicologia social da PUC de São Paulo, explica que o medo da epidemia pode gerar a sensação de que ela é ainda maior.  

“Apesar da informação qualificada, as pessoas nem sempre estão preparadas para compreendê-la. O medo está ligado à fragilidade de lidar com a informação”, afirma. 

Já o professor de medicina da USP (Universidade de São Paulo) Esper Kallás aponta que apesar de haver muita informação disponível, a divulgação e a discussão sobre o tema podem ser benéficos. Para ele, cada segundo gasto em conversas sobre ciência é, na verdade, um investimento.

“Vejo o acesso à informação como oportunidade de discutir saúde pública com a população, de discutir investimento em pesquisa. Acho que isso constrói uma relação com a sociedade que nos permite avançar nesses assuntos.”

Além do sofrimento psicológico de pessoas que tem acesso à essas informações, Bock ressalta que pessoas já fragilizadas e/ou com quadros de transtornos mentais podem sofrer neste momento com mais intensidade. 

No domingo (9), 34 brasileiros e seus parentes que foram evacuados da China chegaram ao Brasil para ficar de quarentena em uma base militar em Anápolis (GO). 

Eles estão sujeitos aos efeitos do isolamento na saúde mental, mas há diferentes tipos de isolamento. 

De acordo com Bock, o isolamento costuma ser usado para promover sofrimento, mas o caso não se aplica aos repatriados. “O isolamento é uma questão ruim para o psicológico. Quando colocamos um filho de castigo, o mandamos para o quarto, para ficar sozinho. Nas prisões,  há a solitária como punição”, lembra. 

No caso dos brasileiros repatriados, buscou-se atenuar a sensação de isolamento. No local onde eles passarão as próximas semanas, há brinquedos para as sete crianças que integram o grupo, telão para filmes, Wi-Fi, plantas, doces e comidas saborosas.

O plano de quarentena do governo, disponível no site do Ministério da Saúde, indica que há uma equipe de assistência psicossocial à disposição dos brasileiros para atenuar o sofrimento psíquico e prevenir o transtorno de estresse pós-traumático). 

A equipe conta com um psicologo e um psiquiatra. Além da avaliação psicológica primária, já na chegada, haverá avaliações semanais. Em casos de sofrimento psíquico, o plano prevê avaliação de risco e abordagem terapêutica (psicoterapia, administração de remédios e observação).

Why nutritional psychiatry is the future of mental health treatment (The Conversation)

A lack of essential nutrients is known to contribute to the onset of poor mental health in people suffering from anxiety and depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and ADHD. Nutritional psychiatry is a growing discipline that focuses on the use of food and supplements to provide these essential nutrients as part of an integrated or alternative treatment for mental health disorders.

But nutritional approaches for these debilitating conditions are not widely accepted by mainstream medicine. Treatment options tend to be limited to official National Institute for Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines which recommend talking therapies and antidepressants.

Use of antidepressants

Antidepressant use has more than doubled in recent years. In England 64.7m prescriptions were issued for antidepressants in 2016 at a cost of £266.6m. This is an increase of 3.7m on the number of items prescribed in 2015 and more than double than the 31m issued in 2006.

A recent Oxford University study found that antidepressants were more effective in treating depression than placebo. The study was led by Dr Andrea Cipriani who claimed that depression is under treated. Cipriani maintains that antidepressants are effective and a further 1m prescriptions should be issued to people in the UK.

This approach suggests that poor mental health caused by social conditions is viewed as easily treated by simply dispensing drugs. But antidepressants are shunned by people whom they could help because of the social stigma associated with mental ill-health which leads to discrimination and exclusion.

Prescriptions for 64.7m items of antidepressants were dispensed in England in 2016, the highest level recorded by the NHS. Shutterstock

More worrying is the increase in the use of antidepressants by children and young people. In Scotland, 5,572 children under 18 were prescribed antidepressants for anxiety and depression in 2016. This figure has more than doubled since 2009/2010.

But according to British psychopharmacologist Professor David Healy, 29 clinical trials of antidepressant use in young people found no benefits at all. These trials revealed that instead of relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression, antidepressants caused children and young people to feel suicidal.

Healy also challenges their safety and effectiveness in adults. He believes that antidepressants are over-prescribed and that there is little evidence that they are safe for long-term use. Antidepressants are said to create dependency, have unpleasant side effects and cannot be relied upon to always relieve symptoms.

Nutrition and poor mental health

In developed countries such as the UK people eat a greater variety of foodstuffs than ever before – but it doesn’t follow that they are well nourished. In fact, many people do not eat enough nutrients that are essential for good brain health, opting for a diet of heavily processed food containing artificial additives and sugar.

The link between poor mental health and nutritional deficiencies has long been recognised by nutritionists working in the complementary health sector. However, psychiatrists are only now becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of using nutritional approaches to mental health, calling for their peers to support and research this new field of treatment.

It is now known that many mental health conditions are caused by inflammation in the brain which ultimately causes our brain cells to die. This inflammatory response starts in our gut and is associated with a lack of nutrients from our food such as magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, vitamins and minerals that are all essential for the optimum functioning of our bodies.

Recent research has shown that food supplements such as zinc, magnesium, omega 3, and vitamins B and D3 can help improve people’s mood, relieve anxiety and depression and improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s.

Magnesium is one of most important minerals for optimal health, yet many people are lacking in it. One studyfound that a daily magnesium citrate supplement led to a significant improvement in depression and anxiety, regardless of age, gender or severity of depression. Improvement did not continue when the supplement was stopped.

Omega-3 fatty acids are another nutrient that is critical for the development and function of the central nervous system – and a lack has been associated with low mood, cognitive decline and poor comprehension.

Research has shown that supplements like zinc, magnesium and vitamins B and D can improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s. Shutterstock

The role of probiotics – the beneficial live bacteria in your digestive system – in improving mental health has also been explored by psychiatrists and nutritionists, who found that taking them daily was associated with a significant reduction in depression and anxiety. Vitamin B complex and zinc are other supplements found to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Hope for the future?

These over-the-counter” supplements are widely available in supermarkets, chemists and online health food stores, although the cost and quality may vary. For people who have not responded to prescription drugs or who cannot tolerate the side effects, nutritional intervention can offer hope for the future.

There is currently much debate over the effectiveness of antidepressants. The use of food supplements offer an alternative approach that has the potential to make a significant difference to the mental health of all age groups.

The emerging scientific evidence suggests that there should be a bigger role for nutritional psychiatry in mental health within conventional health services. If the burden of mental ill health is to be reduced, GPs and psychiatrists need to be aware of the connection between food, inflammation and mental illness.

Medical education has traditionally excluded nutritional knowledge and its association with disease. This has led to a situation where very few doctors in the UK have a proper understanding of the importance of nutrition. Nutritional interventions are thought to have little evidence to support their use to prevent or maintain well-being and so are left to dietitians, rather than doctors, to advise on.

But as the evidence mounts up, it is time for medical education to take nutrition seriously so that GPs and psychiatrists of the future know as much about its role in good health as they do about anatomy and physiology. The state of our mental health could depend on it.

Estudantes de mestrado e doutorado relatam suas dores na pós-graduação (Folha de S.Paulo)


Após a publicação da reportagem ‘Suicídio levanta questões sobre saúde mental na pós’, no final de outubro, a Folha recebeu 272 depoimentos de alunos de pós-graduação de todo o país, dos quais uma parcela está reproduzida abaixo. Eles permitem traçar um retrato das principais agruras e dificuldades enfrentadas por estudantes de mestrado e doutorado no Brasil –e das consequências em sua saúde mental.

Vistos em conjunto, os relatos chamam a atenção, em primeiro lugar, pelo fato de terem sido escritos por estudantes dos mais diversos cursos, instituições e regiões do país.

A maioria dos depoimentos, como seria de esperar, provém de discentes de grandes universidades públicas, como USP, Unicamp, Unesp, e as federais do Rio e de Minas Gerais, que concentram a maior parte dos estudantes de pós-graduação.

Não são poucos, porém, aqueles redigidos por alunos de instituições de menor porte, como a Universidade Estadual do Sudoeste da Bahia e o Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais, ou particulares, como a PUC-PR e a Universidade Metodista de SP.

Os relatos vieram ainda das cinco regiões do país e de estudantes de toda a sorte de áreas e carreiras: de letras a matemática, de biologia a engenharia.

Vídeo: dores da pós



Na intersecção da maioria das dificuldades descritas pelos estudantes –pressão exagerada, carga de trabalho frequentemente excessiva, solidão, assédio moral, entre outras– encontra-se a figura do orientador, o professor responsável por ajudá-los a realizar a tese e prepará-los para a pesquisa acadêmica.

Ele não apenas possui um papel central na formação intelectual do estudante como, pela maneira como a pós-graduação é organizada no país, detém poder considerável sobre a sua rotina.

Assim, a maneira como se desenvolve o relacionamento entre mestre e discípulo acaba sendo determinante para o sucesso ou o fracasso deste durante o mestrado ou o doutorado. Não raro, como atestam os relatos, orientadores se mostram despreparados para lidar com os alunos e exercer o papel esperado na formação deles.

Parte desse problema talvez advenha da falta de regras claras acerca do que separa cobranças normais de exigências descabidas.

Diante disso, e dada a importância dessa relação, uma das providências possíveis de serem tomadas por universidades e institutos de pesquisa que abrigam alunos de pós é preparar seus docentes para lidar com os orientandos. Também poderia ser estabelecido alguma espécie de código de conduta que esclarecesse aos orientadores o limite a partir do qual suas atitudes se tornam humilhações, maus-tratos e abusos.


Outro fator que colabora para esse quadro, embora seja costumeiramente negligenciado, é o ambiente estressante onde habitam os professores universitários. Em alguma medida, essa carga acaba se transferindo para os alunos.

Docentes, em seu dia a dia, precisam lidar com prazos apertados, obter financiamentos para seus projetos de pesquisa, dar aulas, orientar alunos, corrigir provas e teses, preparar relatórios para agências de fomento, além de sofrerem pressão para produzir artigos de alto impacto.

Além das pressões e dificuldades próprias da pós-graduação, os estudantes precisam ainda lidar com a estigmatização dos transtornos mentais dentro do ambiente acadêmico, onde ansiedade, depressão e pânico são frequentemente associados à fraqueza, incapacidade e despreparo.
Tal estigmatização -que não difere da maneira como tais enfermidades são vistas na sociedade- debilita ainda mais o aluno que já passa por dificuldades, e pode, ao ser introjetada, desestimulá-lo a buscar a ajuda necessária nos serviços de saúde.

Também nessa linha educativa, ações simples, como campanhas ou grupos de discussão, podem compor uma estratégia no combate ao preconceito que ronda a questão.


Diversos estudantes contam, em seus depoimentos, a situação de precariedade econômica em que vivem devido ao valor das bolsas de estudo pagas pelo governo federal. De fato, R$ 1.500 (para o mestrado) e R$ 2.200 (para o doutorado) –montantes que não são reajustados desde 2013– não constituem valores atrativos nem suficientes para exercer uma função altamente especializada e que, em grande parte dos casos, demanda dedicação exclusiva.

De outro lado, a Capes, ligada ao MEC e maior financiadora do país, paga 90 mil bolsas a mestrandos e doutorandos. Se numa época de grave restrição econômica já é difícil manter esse número estável, é pouco provável que esse valor aumente de maneira significativa.

Nesse cenário surge uma discussão sobre qual seria o modelo de financiamento mais adequado para esse sistema, debate que vem acompanhado da discussão de que tipo de pós-graduação o país deseja ter. É melhor investir em mais bolsas, ainda que pagando somas menores, ou deve-se buscar um valor maior para elas, quiçá competitivo com o que é pago pela iniciativa privada, mas numa quantidade reduzida?

Essas são apenas algumas das questões trazidas à luz pelos depoimentos enviados por pós-graduandos.

Não se deve, por certo, generalizar para todos os alunos de mestrado e doutorado os dramas expostos nesses relatos; tampouco se deve menosprezá-los, como se refletissem apenas situações isoladas ou queixas de alunos problemáticos.

Tais problemas resultam da maneira como o sistema de pós-graduação é organizado no país e, portanto, precisam ser enfrentados por todos os atores que o constituem.

Afinal, o aluno que tem a sua saúde mental afetada, embora seja o mais prejudicado, também gera custos para toda a cadeia: o grupo de pesquisa ao qual pertence, o programa de pós ao qual está vinculado, a universidade em que estuda e a agência de fomento que financia a sua bolsa.


A sensação de ser uma impostora é diária em um meio onde há pressão o tempo todo, de todas as formas possíveis. No mês que antecedeu minha defesa [conclusão do curso], chorei todos os dias. Esquecia de comer, me sentia culpada ao sair com os amigos no fim de semana, pois deveria estar terminando minha dissertação, mesmo que estivesse esgotada.

Além disso, minha orientadora sumia por meses. Faltando algumas semanas, para a defesa, ela viajou para o exterior. Escrevi tudo sozinha, sem direcionamento, até a sua volta, quando precisei virar noites para terminar a tempo.Acordei diversas vezes sem querer acordar. Levantar da cama e encarar o dia era um desafio que eu não conseguia enfrentar sem derramar lágrimas.

Fiz terapia durante quase todo o processo, mas precisei parar no final, pois a minha bolsa terminou; o programa de pós nunca ofereceu auxílio psicológico.

Neurociências, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

O mestrado significou longos meses de tortura e sofrimento. Minha orientadora me tratava com pouco caso, atribuindo o fracasso a mim mesmo quando não tinha a ver comigo.

Ela era sempre impositiva, me mantinha sempre sob sujeição e nunca me deu sequer um elogio; só fui elogiado no dia da defesa. Como morava numa república, longe de casa e não tinha com quem conversar, foram várias as situações que, mesmo sabendo que não cometeria suicídio, pensava “até que não seria má ideia”. Foram os dois anos mais trágicos da minha vida.

Ciências Sociais, Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora

No meu mestrado, tive síndrome do pânico e achei que não ia conseguir terminar.

Com apoio psicológico da universidade consegui concluir, apesar do péssimo relacionamento com minha orientadora, que me cobrava muito e não entendia que estava doente.

Cinco anos depois da defesa a minha tese continua jogada na estante e não consigo sequer olhar para ela. Entrei no doutorado, mas acabei desistindo. Hoje estou bem com essa escolha, pois o meio acadêmico não é para pessoas sensíveis.

Linguística, Unicamp

Nunca consegui terminar o doutorado. Estava prestes a qualificar [exame crucial que precede a defesa da tese] quando o meu orientador simplesmente me agarrou no laboratório.

Denunciei o assédio, mas nunca deu em nada. Eu fui a quinta aluna atacada por ele. Nunca houve punição por parte do programa de pós ou da universidade.

Tive que trocar de orientador, e então, para me atrapalhar, ele me excluiu do sistema antes que eu pudesse concluir a transferência. Tive que recomeçar tudo do zero: disciplinas, projeto, experimentos. Eu não me conformava de ter sido a vítima e também a pessoa que estava sendo punida.

Todo mundo sabia da história, mas ninguém fez nada. Ele andava solto falando que eu era “a menininha não sabia ser cantada sem ficar bravinha”. Tentei por mais um ano, até que perdeu o sentido. Eu não aguentava mais.

Microbiologia, USP

No doutorado, minha pesquisa parecia travada. Nada dava certo, faltava orientação adequada. Eu estava tentando produzir algo muito novo e meu orientador não conseguia ajudar. Tive que desenvolver uma nova metodologia, o que deu muito trabalho.

Gastei quase três anos do meu doutorado nessa etapa, algo que não era para ser nem 25% da minha tese.

Estava, obviamente, muito atrasado. Em vez de receber algum mérito pelo desenvolvimento do método praticamente sem ajuda de colaboradores, fui muito criticado por estar atrasado e acabei sendo reprovado na minha qualificação.

Existe uma segunda chance de se qualificar, mas uma nova reprovação te desliga da pós. Nesse ponto comecei a dar sinais de depressão. Não conseguia dormir porque ficava pensando muito nisso. Passava noites em claro.

Comecei a ter fortes crises de ansiedade. Meu peito doía sem parar, meu coração acelerava loucamente. Fui parar no hospital universitário duas vezes achando que estava tendo um infarto.

Fizeram exames, mas nada foi constatado. O médico perguntou todo o meu histórico. No fim, só restou um diagnóstico: crise de ansiedade. O tratamento parece ser simples: parar de se preocupar. Só parece, porque obviamente não é.

Biologia, USP

Logo que entrei senti que seria mais complicado do que imaginei. Meu orientador não orientava, ele desorientava todos os seus alunos. Para completar, o (des)orientador passou em um concurso em outra universidade e foi embora.

Aí ele me abandonou de vez. Quando vinha ao laboratório, os orientandos que estavam mais próximos de defender ou de qualificar tinham prioridade e nunca sobrava tempo pra me atender. Meus e-mails raramente eram respondidos. Pedi para ter uma co-orientadora e fui informada de que “não havia necessidade”. Entrei no mestrado com 64 quilos, saí com 84. Ganhei 20 quilos em dois anos.

Descontava minha ansiedade, minhas frustrações, minha raiva e minha tristeza na comida. Quando comia, tinha o meu único momento de prazer.

Engenharia Mecânica, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Meu orientador cobrava presença diária nas atividades do laboratório, mas nunca me orientou. Fiz tudo sozinha. Além do professor não orientar, o ambiente era extremamente hostil.

Minha defesa de projeto, no meio do curso, foi traumática. Meus familiares não aguentaram assistir a tanta humilhação. Eu mesma não aguentei e chorei o tempo todo.

Na minha defesa final não foi diferente: humilhação em cima de humilhação. Para não me despedaçar eu foquei no diploma do mestrado que eu estava prestes a receber.

Agronomia, Universidade Federal de Lavras

Tive uma orientadora autoritária, “workaholic”, estressada e que gostava de humilhar seus alunos. Abandonei o projeto, para o qual tinha bolsa de estudos, e fui em busca de um orientador mais justo.

Concluí o mestrado com esse orientador e atualmente faço doutorado. As coisas estão um pouco melhores, mas atualmente sofremos com o corte de verbas. Conheço muitas outros alunos que foram humilhados e passaram por situações difíceis; é algo comum. No fundo, é um ciclo. Os orientadores, quando alunos, passaram pelas mesmas coisas e replicam isso, achando normal.

Tecnologia em Processos Químicos e Bioquímicos, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

Eu deveria seguir uma carga horária de quatro a seis horas diárias, de acordo com o regulamento da bolsa. Mas não há fiscalização e ninguém sabe o que se passa dentro de um laboratório.

Quem manda é o orientador, que não se apossa apenas do seu trabalho, mas também da sua vida pessoal a depender de seu temperamento.
Tem dias que passo 12h na universidade, mais precisamente num laboratório que não deve ter mais que cinco metros quadrados.

E não é porque tenho muito trabalho a fazer, mas por capricho do chefe. Não me permitiram sequer arrumar um emprego à noite para somar a uma ultrapassada bolsa de R$ 1.500.

Quanto ao meu projeto, meu orientador faz questão de me lembrar com esses termos: “Você está fodida”.

Doenças Tropicais, Universidade Federal do Pará

É triste quando o que você ama se volta contra você. Finalizei o mestrado há dois anos e não consigo abrir a minha dissertação.

Minha ex-orientadora se tornou um pesadelo, ainda ando nas ruas conferindo todas as placas dos carros do mesmo modelo que ela tinha.

Ela sempre trabalhou com o esquema de hierarquia, em que ela, que estava no topo, podia fazer tudo, e nós deveríamos aceitar calados.

Com relação à dissertação, lembro que ela me cobrou com três meses de antecedência, e eu perguntava a ela sobre as correções até que um dia ela me disse que a única pessoa que havia olhado a minha dissertação foi a filha dela de dois anos e me mostrou vários desenhos que a criança havia feito.

Zootecnia, Universidade Federal de Viçosa

Ao entrar no mestrado sofri com as cobranças exageradas; fiquei doente, precisei de ajuda de psicólogo e neurologista, tive crises de ansiedade, não conseguia dormir. Pensava em suicídio, sim.

No doutorado tentamos retirar a medicação, pois parecia que havia me adaptando à rotina. Não deu certo. Em um mês, a ansiedade e a insônia tinham voltado.

É como se você tivesse que ser mil e uma utilidades, os orientadores exigem que o pós-graduando realize, além da sua pesquisa, outras demandas do laboratório, dê aulas em seu lugar… a jornada chega a doze horas diárias. Além disso, temos de produzir artigos e escrever inúmeros relatórios para as agências de fomento.

Biologia, Unesp

Dentro do laboratório nem sempre as coisas funcionam bem. Às vezes o experimento dá certo, e mil outras vezes, não. Era duro escutar que talvez eu não tivesse capacidade suficiente para fazer o básico, quando muitas vezes o erro era do acaso…

Sim, as coisas podem dar errado, mas dentro da ciência o erro era sempre meu, e também dos meus colegas, mas nunca dos orientadores.

O aluno de pós não é um trabalhador: não há salário, há bolsa; não há férias; não há função específica; é uma espécie de escravidão.

Que pós-graduando nunca entrou no laboratório às 7h e saiu às 23h? Qual nunca ficou até o dia 24/12 no laboratório? Qual nunca teve que repetir o mesmo experimento 200 vezes só para mostrar ao orientador que a hipótese dele estava errada?

Tudo isso machuca muito. Quantos professores não abrem a boca só para ferir o aluno? Poucos são aqueles que protegem e ensinam.

Fisiologia Humana, USP

O medo e a vergonha de ser rotulado de fraco, de louco, de exagerado são maiores do que a vontade de gritar. Como ser indiferente a jornadas cansativas, professores semideuses, orientadores abusivos?

Nunca me senti tratado como gente enquanto estive na pós, pois colocar família, saúde ou lazer, mesmo que poucas vezes, à frente das atividades acadêmicas é visto como crime. Não foram poucos os amigos que desistiram. Pior ainda, outros permaneceram, vivendo a base de remédio para dar conta.

Eu já acordei assustada depois de sonhar com meu orientador me questionando por estar dormindo. Isso quando eu conseguia dormir. Tive que me encher de ansiolíticos e antidepressivos para dar conta de continuar viva.

No último semestre do mestrado, os remédios perderam o efeito. Eu não dormia, não descansava, não conseguia escrever a dissertação. Com ajuda médica consegui defender. No doutorado tudo piorou, pois a relação com meu orientador foi se desgastando e eu tomei aversão ao trabalho e ao laboratório.

Minha depressão piorou muito e eu desenvolvi síndrome do pânico e fobia social. Cheguei ao fundo do poço e o suicídio passou a ser encarado como uma alternativa na minha vida.

Agronomia, Universidade Federal Rural de Pernambuco

Estou no meu primeiro ano de mestrado e tenho passado por muitas dificuldades. A pós-graduação já me causou muita perturbação, começando pelo ambiente de trabalho, onde as pessoas fazem você se sentir absolutamente um nada.

Além disso, o orientador te pressiona, te desmerece, quer te humilhar, muitas vezes por coisas pequenas.

A pior coisa do mundo é ter de fingir que tudo isso é normal, pois, caso contrário, vou ser tachada de fraca, imatura, burra, aquela que não aguenta. Está sendo a pior coisa do mundo.

Eu gostava muito da ideia de fazer o mestrado, mas depois que entrei eu sinto que foi uma das piores escolhas da minha vida. Já pensei em me matar e sumir. Estou fazendo acompanhamento com psiquiatra e psicólogo.

Na instituição onde estudo, depressão é vista como frescura, ou desculpa do aluno que não quer entregar um trabalho digno.

Entomologia, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia

Enquanto estive no Brasil, sofri com depressão e crises de pânico. Foi só na Suécia, onde fui fazer o período sanduíche do doutorado, que eu me senti pela primeira vez respeitada como pessoa dentro do ambiente acadêmico. Lá, cada aluno tem ao menos uma cadeira e mesa individual.

Aqui, nós sentamos no meio do laboratório junto com as bactérias que cultivamos, ou próximo a reagentes cancerígenos. O salário dos meus colegas na Suécia é similar ao de um emprego regular.

Também há pressão por lá, mas o orientador é responsável para com os alunos. Não se espera que o doutorando desempenhe algo se não forem dados recursos e condições adequadas para isso. Os colegas são cooperativos, não competitivos. Existe um ambiente de ganha-ganha.

Ciência de Alimentos, Unicamp

Estou no meu segundo ano de doutorado e já fiz planos de suicídio mais de uma vez. O meu departamento ameaça quem não produz com cortes de bolsa e devolução das que já recebeu e outras coisas.

As exigências aumentam, mas as condições para cumprir o que eles pedem não melhoram. Minha orientadora (uma santa) sugeriu que eu procurasse um psiquiatra depois de perceber que eu não estava bem. Meus colegas, por estarem disputando materiais comigo, me tratam mal.

As fofocas e bullying são algo assustador, e atingem todos aqueles que mostram fragilidade. Quem fica deprimido, é covarde, alguém que não deveria ter entrado no programa.

As meninas que querem se casar ou ter filhos são ameaçadas de perder a bolsa por “não prestigiarem suas carreiras”.

No mestrado, eu tinha alucinações. Trabalhava de segunda a segunda. Mal dormia e comia. Quase perdi parte do pulmão por um descolamento da pleura num incidente de bicicleta que causei porque queria morrer.

Microbiologia, Universidade Federal do Paraná

Tive um sério problema de melancolia durante o mestrado. Não cheguei a ir a um médico, mas o choro antes de dormir denunciava meu estado.
Cheguei a travar diante da sala de aula, devido à pressão que sentia. Estudávamos de 12 a 14 horas por dia. Resenhávamos 500 páginas por semana.

Os professores riam das nossas caras quando tentávamos apresentar novas ideias e interpretações. A bolsa não pagava nem o aluguel. O terrorismo acadêmico é verdadeiro.

Até agora, escrevendo esse texto, sinto meu sangue ferver de raiva e ódio pelo que me fizeram passar. Ainda bem que fui consciente: posterguei meu sonho de ser acadêmico, mas ganhei minha vida de volta.

Relações Internacionais, PUC-Rio

No mestrado, a frieza no laboratório, a cobrança por resultados que não dependiam de mim, e sim de equipamentos, e as longas horas de trabalho me fizeram desenvolver crises insuportáveis de fibromialgia, perda de apetite a ponto de ficar com o peso corporal incompatível com a saúde e uma tristeza tão profunda que ia chorando no caminho de casa até o laboratório.

Terminei e resolvi mudar de área de pesquisa. Estava contente por iniciar um novo ciclo no doutorado. E não demorou para eu passar pelas mesmas humilhações públicas, pressões e desamparo anteriores, além de ter tido insônia, ansiedade, sensação de impotência

Educação em Ciência e Saúde, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

Fiz mestrado, doutorado e pós-doutorado no mesmo laboratório. O mais comum são estudantes sem perspectivas, desanimados, sem conseguir ver a luz no fim do túnel. Vários amigos e colegas tiveram depressão.

Duas pessoas do meu laboratório tiveram paralisia facial. Uma amiga, também do laboratório, teve um surto psicótico no ano passado. Foi horrível. E nossa chefa nem queria avisar a família, que vive em Recife. Me chamou de alarmista e imatura.

Mesmo após de ter concluído a pós, um certo trauma ficou. Eu ainda não consigo passar um final de semana sem sentir culpa por não estar trabalhando, lendo um artigo, escrevendo um “paper”. É uma loucura que só entende quem passa.

Fisiologia e Biofísica, USP

No meio do doutorado tive problemas com a minha pesquisa, o que levou a uma carga maior de trabalho e a muito estresse. Isso se somou à precariedade financeira, ao medo do futuro e aos questionamentos que sempre aparecem na mente dos pós-graduandos: o que eu estou fazendo? Onde vou chegar fazendo isso?

Comecei a ter crises de refluxo gastroesofágico combinados com crises de pânico.

Não há glamour na pesquisa científica. Ao contrário, ficamos isolados, com pouco contato social e trabalhamos incessantemente em projetos e publicações de artigos, além de vivermos sob prazos apertados. Isso é pouco discutido porque somos vistos como “privilegiados”, que são remunerados para estudar.

Ciências Florestais, Universidade de Brasília

No mestrado, as preocupações com relação a prazos me fizeram entrar em um estado no qual não conseguia fazer mais nada da vida que não fosse estudar. Se saía num sábado para me divertir, me sentia como se estivesse fazendo algo muito errado. Fiz uma viagem num feriado com a família e, nesses poucos dias, a consciência pesada por não estar estudando era tanta que cheguei a ter taquicardia. Já no doutorado, comecei a apresentar um quadro depressivo.

A pós-graduação é um ambiente de muita incerteza e não existe acolhimento para alunos que passam por problemas assim. Cheguei a um ponto no qual não queria mais levantar da cama. Viver doía. Não cheguei a pensar em suicídio especificamente, mas pensava que morrer não seria ruim.

Economia, Universidade Federal Fluminense

Uma relação bastante conturbada resultou na troca de orientador e de projeto. Na prática, fiquei com pouco tempo para desenvolver a pesquisa. Pressão, prazos apertados e vida pessoal e familiar problemáticas me renderam uma depressão.

Eis algumas frases que ouvi durante a doença: “Depressão é frescura”, “Isso é preguiça mesmo”, “mãe de família não deveria cogitar a ideia de pós graduação, nunca irá acompanhar o ritmo”.

Será que a pós é um contrato de escravidão? Não temos direitos, apenas deveres?

Botânica, Instituto de Pesquisas do Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro

Psychedelic drug ayahuasca improves hard-to-treat depression (New Scientist)

DAILY NEWS 14 April 2017

Woman drinks mixture containing ayahuasca

From shamanistic ritual to medical treatment? Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images

It tastes foul and makes people vomit. But ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic concoction that has been drunk in South America for centuries in religious rituals, may help people with depression that is resistant to antidepressants.

Tourists are increasingly trying ayahuasca during holidays to countries such as Brazil and Peru, where the psychedelic drug is legal. Now the world’s first randomised clinical trial of ayahuasca for treating depression has found that it can rapidly improve mood.

The trial, which took place in Brazil, involved administering a single dose to 14 people with treatment-resistant depression, while 15 people with the same condition received a placebo drink.

A week later, those given ayahuasca showed dramatic improvements, with their mood shifting from severe to mild on a standard scale of depression. “The main evidence is that the antidepressant effect of ayahuasca is superior to the placebo effect,” says Dráulio de Araújo of the Brain Institute at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, who led the trial.

Bitter brew

Shamans traditionally prepare the bitter, deep-brown brew of ayahuasca using two plants native to South America. The first, Psychotria viridis, is packed with the mind-altering compound dimetheyltryptamine (DMT). The second, the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi), contains substances that stop DMT from being broken down before it crosses the gut and reaches the brain.

To fool placebo recipients into thinking they were getting the real thing, de Araújo and his team concocted an equally foul tasting brown-coloured drink. They also carefully selected participants who had never tried ayahuasca or other psychedelic drugs before.

A day before their dose, the participants filled in standard questionnaires to rate their depression. The next day, they spent 8 hours in a quiet, supervised environment, where they received either the placebo or the potion, which produces hallucinogenic effects for around 4 hours. They then repeated filling in the questionnaires one, two and seven days later.

Both groups reported substantial improvements one and two days after the treatment, with placebo scores often as high as those of people who had taken the drug. In trials of new antidepressant drugs, it is common for as many as 40 per cent of participants to respond positively to placebos, says de Araújo.

But a week into this trial, 64 per cent of people who had taken ayahuasca felt the severity of their depression reduce by 50 per cent or more. This was true for only 27 per cent of those who drank the placebo.

Psychedelic treatments

“The findings suggest a rapid antidepressant benefit for ayahuasca, at least for the short term,” says David Mischoulon of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “But we need studies that follow patients for longer periods to see whether these effects are sustained.”

“There is clearly potential to explore further how this most ancient of plant medicines may have a salutary effect in modern treatment settings, particularly in patients who haven’t responded well to conventional treatments,” says Charles Grob at the University of California, Los Angeles.

If the finding holds up in longer studies, it could provide a valuable new tool for helping people with treatment-resistant depression. An estimated 350 million people worldwide experience depression, and between a third to a half of them don’t improve when given standard antidepressants.

Ayahuasca isn’t the only psychedelic drug being investigated as a potential treatment for depression. Researchers have also seen some benefits with ketamine and psilocybin, extracted from magic mushrooms, although psilocybin is yet to be tested against a placebo.

Journal reference: bioRxiv, DOI: 10.1101/103531

What Did Neanderthals Leave to Modern Humans? Some Surprises (New York Times)

Geneticists tell us that somewhere between 1 and 5 percent of the genome of modern Europeans and Asians consists of DNA inherited from Neanderthals, our prehistoric cousins.

At Vanderbilt University, John Anthony Capra, an evolutionary genomics professor, has been combining high-powered computation and a medical records databank to learn what a Neanderthal heritage — even a fractional one — might mean for people today.

We spoke for two hours when Dr. Capra, 35, recently passed through New York City. An edited and condensed version of the conversation follows.

Q. Let’s begin with an indiscreet question. How did contemporary people come to have Neanderthal DNA on their genomes?

A. We hypothesize that roughly 50,000 years ago, when the ancestors of modern humans migrated out of Africa and into Eurasia, they encountered Neanderthals. Matings must have occurred then. And later.

One reason we deduce this is because the descendants of those who remained in Africa — present day Africans — don’t have Neanderthal DNA.

What does that mean for people who have it? 

At my lab, we’ve been doing genetic testing on the blood samples of 28,000 patients at Vanderbilt and eight other medical centers across the country. Computers help us pinpoint where on the human genome this Neanderthal DNA is, and we run that against information from the patients’ anonymized medical records. We’re looking for associations.

What we’ve been finding is that Neanderthal DNA has a subtle influence on risk for disease. It affects our immune system and how we respond to different immune challenges. It affects our skin. You’re slightly more prone to a condition where you can get scaly lesions after extreme sun exposure. There’s an increased risk for blood clots and tobacco addiction.

To our surprise, it appears that some Neanderthal DNA can increase the risk for depression; however, there are other Neanderthal bits that decrease the risk. Roughly 1 to 2 percent of one’s risk for depression is determined by Neanderthal DNA. It all depends on where on the genome it’s located.

Was there ever an upside to having Neanderthal DNA?

It probably helped our ancestors survive in prehistoric Europe. When humans migrated into Eurasia, they encountered unfamiliar hazards and pathogens. By mating with Neanderthals, they gave their offspring needed defenses and immunities.

That trait for blood clotting helped wounds close up quickly. In the modern world, however, this trait means greater risk for stroke and pregnancy complications. What helped us then doesn’t necessarily now.

Did you say earlier that Neanderthal DNA increases susceptibility to nicotine addiction?

Yes. Neanderthal DNA can mean you’re more likely to get hooked on nicotine, even though there were no tobacco plants in archaic Europe.

We think this might be because there’s a bit of Neanderthal DNA right next to a human gene that’s a neurotransmitter implicated in a generalized risk for addiction. In this case and probably others, we think the Neanderthal bits on the genome may serve as switches that turn human genes on or off.

Aside from the Neanderthals, do we know if our ancestors mated with other hominids?

We think they did. Sometimes when we’re examining genomes, we can see the genetic afterimages of hominids who haven’t even been identified yet.

A few years ago, the Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo received an unusual fossilized bone fragment from Siberia. He extracted the DNA, sequenced it and realized it was neither human nor Neanderthal. What Paabo found was a previously unknown hominid he named Denisovan, after the cave where it had been discovered. It turned out that Denisovan DNA can be found on the genomes of modern Southeast Asians and New Guineans.

Have you long been interested in genetics?

Growing up, I was very interested in history, but I also loved computers. I ended up majoring in computer science at college and going to graduate school in it; however, during my first year in graduate school, I realized I wasn’t very motivated by the problems that computer scientists worked on.

Fortunately, around that time — the early 2000s — it was becoming clear that people with computational skills could have a big impact in biology and genetics. The human genome had just been mapped. What an accomplishment! We now had the code to what makes you, you, and me, me. I wanted to be part of that kind of work.

So I switched over to biology. And it was there that I heard about a new field where you used computation and genetics research to look back in time — evolutionary genomics.

There may be no written records from prehistory, but genomes are a living record. If we can find ways to read them, we can discover things we couldn’t know any other way.

Not long ago, the two top editors of The New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial questioning “data sharing,” a common practice where scientists recycle raw data other researchers have collected for their own studies. They labeled some of the recycling researchers, “data parasites.” How did you feel when you read that?

I was upset. The data sets we used were not originally collected to specifically study Neanderthal DNA in modern humans. Thousands of patients at Vanderbilt consented to have their blood and their medical records deposited in a “biobank” to find genetic diseases.

Three years ago, when I set up my lab at Vanderbilt, I saw the potential of the biobank for studying both genetic diseases and human evolution. I wrote special computer programs so that we could mine existing data for these purposes.

That’s not being a “parasite.” That’s moving knowledge forward. I suspect that most of the patients who contributed their information are pleased to see it used in a wider way.

What has been the response to your Neanderthal research since you published it last year in the journal Science?

Some of it’s very touching. People are interested in learning about where they came from. Some of it is a little silly. “I have a lot of hair on my legs — is that from Neanderthals?”

But I received racist inquiries, too. I got calls from all over the world from people who thought that since Africans didn’t interbreed with Neanderthals, this somehow justified their ideas of white superiority.

It was illogical. Actually, Neanderthal DNA is mostly bad for us — though that didn’t bother them.

As you do your studies, do you ever wonder about what the lives of the Neanderthals were like?

It’s hard not to. Genetics has taught us a tremendous amount about that, and there’s a lot of evidence that they were much more human than apelike.

They’ve gotten a bad rap. We tend to think of them as dumb and brutish. There’s no reason to believe that. Maybe those of us of European heritage should be thinking, “Let’s improve their standing in the popular imagination. They’re our ancestors, too.’”

Active ingredient in magic mushrooms reduces anxiety, depression in cancer patients (Science Daily)

Date: December 10, 2015

Source: American College of Neuropsychopharmacology

Summary: Psilocybin, found in magic mushrooms, decreased anxiety and depression in patients diagnosed with life-threatening cancer. New research shows that patients who received a psilocybin dose that altered perception and produced mystical-type experiences reported significantly less anxiety and depression compared with patients who received a low dose of the drug. The positive effects lasted 6 months.

A single dose of psilocybin, the major hallucinogenic component in magic mushrooms, induces long-lasting decreases in anxiety and depression in patients diagnosed with life-threatening cancer according to a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Patients who receive a cancer diagnosis often develop debilitating symptoms of anxiety and depression. Reports from the 1960s and 1970s suggest that hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD may alleviate such symptoms in cancer patients, but the clinical value of hallucinogenic drugs for the treatment of mood disturbances in cancer patients remains unclear. In this new study, Roland Griffiths and colleagues from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine investigated the effects of psilocybin on symptoms of anxiety and depression in individuals diagnosed with life-threatening cancer. Five weeks after receiving a dose of psilocybin sufficiently high to induce changes in perception and mystical-type experiences, patients reported significantly lower levels of anxiety and depression compared with patients that received a low dose of the drug. The positive effects on mood persisted in the patients at 6 month follow-up.

The authors suggest that a single dose of psilocybin may be sufficient to produce enduring decreases in negative mood in patients with a life-threatening cancer.

Permission to Care: From Anxiety to Action on Climate Change (Desmog Canada)

Mon, 2015-01-26 12:59


Over the past few years, I’ve been fortunate to participate in discussions about climate change threats and environmental issues with people across private, public, governmental, and research sectors. Whether at an island retreat in Puget Sound, a corporate conference at a resort or in the halls of our esteemed universities, the same questions get asked: How can we get people to care more? How do we motivate people? What’s it going to take?

What if these are the wrong questions to be asking?

Let’s consider this question by first reconsidering the context.

Environmental issues can generate huge anxieties that make them hard for many people to contemplate. Climate change in particular taps into all sorts of cognitive dissonances and feelings of guilt, leaving many people feeling overwhelmed about their role in the problem and solution. This anxiety is often managed through an array of brilliant (usually unconscious) strategies, often both privately and socially, that help us avoid pain, discomfort and conflicts.

Assuming we can agree on these things, the questions we should be asking are: How can our well-established insights into loss and cognitive dissonance guide new approaches to reaching people? How can our understanding of the way anxiety impacts our psyche and conduct inform the way we engage, message and campaign for a more sustainable future?

Psychology and sustainability may seem like strange bedfellows but more than 100 years of psychoanalytic research reveals a lot about how people use unconscious processes to manage anxiety. If I am feeling rather down about the prognosis of our planet, I like to ask myself: “What would a good therapist do?” Does a therapist berate the patient for being scared, reticent or a bit stuck? Does a therapist offer cash incentives for changing behaviors? (I hope not.) One of the first things a (good) therapist does is create what’s called a sense of safety and containment. They can do this by acknowledging their patient’s conflict, suffering and struggle, by helping the patient feel “seen”. Then – and only then – do they form an alliance with the patient to work together in a collaborative, participatory way towards change.

How this translates into engaging people more widely and creatively can be surprising. For starters, acknowledging that people use unconscious strategies for managing anxiety changes the ways we consider (and research) how people think and feel about our world. Analysis needs to go beneath the surface to explore where people feel stuck in conflict and anxious. Second, a psychoanalytic paradigm asks not whether people care or not but focuses onwhere care may exist but may not have permission to be expressed.

This approach can infuse our engagement work, whether in research or strategy, with a mood of curiosity as opposed to frustration and irritation at how wasteful, greedy and short-sighted societies can be. And this mood of curiosity and inquiry can lead us into some unexpected behavior change strategies – particularly through conversation.

The power of conversation may be the most profound insight we can gain from those on the frontlines of the therapeutic professions. Conversation changes people. As Rosemary Randall’s development of Carbon Conversations demonstrates, it’s very simple – if we want people to change, we have to listen to them. Humans are designed to learn, be changed and process information in the act of conversing. In this context, engagement can move beyond the creation of “Green Teams” and champions, into a far more dynamic evolution that creates contexts for creative participation. This means letting go of some control and being open to seeing what emerges when we invite people to contribute (a concept usefully offered by British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott) and exercise their agency.

What all of this amounts to is a radical reframe, a shift from a focus on motivating, persuading, cajoling and gamifying to inviting, enabling, facilitating and supporting. This is about giving people permission to care. As deeply social beings, we need some permission, we need to feel safe. Now, more than any other time, we need to start practicing a new form of engagement that presumes there is more care than can be contained – it just needs some help being channeled.

This article originally appeared on Climate Access.

Image Credit: Mark Stevens via Flickr

Dahr Jamail | Mourning Our Planet: Climate Scientists Share Their Grieving Process (Truthout)

Sunday, 25 January 2015 00:00 By Dahr JamailTruthout | News Analysis 

Scientists write their feelings about climate change

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

I have been researching and writing about anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) for Truthout for the past year, because I have long been deeply troubled by how fast the planet has been emitting its obvious distress signals.

On a nearly daily basis, I’ve sought out the most recent scientific studies, interviewed the top researchers and scientists penning those studies, and connected the dots to give readers as clear a picture as possible about the magnitude of the emergency we are in.

This work has emotional consequences: I’ve struggled with depression, anger, and fear. I’ve watched myself shift through some of the five stages of grief proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance I’ve grieved for the planet and all the species who live here, and continue to do so as I work today.

I have been vacillating between depression and acceptance of where we are, both as victims – fragile human beings – and as perpetrators: We are the species responsible for altering the climate system of the planet we inhabit to the point of possibly driving ourselves extinct, in addition to the 150-200 species we are already driving extinct.

Can you relate to this grieving process?

If so, you might find solace in the fact that you are not alone: Climate science researchers, scientists, journalists and activists have all been struggling with grief around what we are witnessing.

To see more stories like this, visit “Planet or Profit?”

Take Professor Camille Parmesan, a climate researcher who says that ACD is the driving cause of her depression.

“I don’t know of a single scientist that’s not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost,” Parmesan said in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2012 report. “It’s gotten to be so depressing that I’m not sure I’m going to go back to this particular site again,” she said in reference to an ocean reef she had studied since 2002, “because I just know I’m going to see more and more of the coral dead, and bleached, and covered with brown algae.”

Last year I wrote about the work of Joanna Macy, a scholar of Buddhism, eco-philosophy, general systems theory and deep ecology, and author of more than a dozen books. Her initiative, The Work That Reconnects, helps people essentially do nothing more mysterious than telling the truth about what we see, know and feel is happening to our world.

In order to remain able to continue in our work, we first must feel the full pain of what is being done to the world, according to Macy.” Refusing to feel pain, and becoming incapable of feeling the pain, which is actually the root meaning of apathy, refusal to suffer – that makes us stupid, and half alive,” she told me. “It causes us to become blind to see what is really out there.”

I recently came across a blog titled, Is This How You Feel? It is an extraordinary compilation of handwritten letters from highly credentialed climate scientists and researchers sharing their myriad feelings about what they are seeing.

The blog is run and operated by Joe Duggan, a science communicator, who described his project like this: “All the scientists that have penned letters for this site have a sound understanding of climate change. Some have spent years designing models to predict changing climate, others, years investigating the implications for animal life. More still have been exploring a range of other topics concerning the causes and implications of a changing climate. As a minimum, they’ve all achieved a PhD in their area of expertise.”

With Joe’s permission, I am happy to share the passages below. In the spirit of opening the door to a continuing dialog among readers about our collective situation, what follows are the – often very personal – thoughts and feelings of several leading climate scientists.


“Like many others I feel frustrated with the current state of public discourse and I’m dismayed by those who, seemingly motivated by their own short-term self interest, have chosen to hijack that discussion,” wrote Dr. John Fasullo, a project scientist in the climate analysis section of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research, on the Is This How You Feel? blog. “The climate is changing and WE are the primary cause.”

Professor Peter B. deMenocal with Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory shared an analogy to the climate scientist’s predicament, comparing it to how a medical doctor would feel while having to inform their patient, who is an old, lifelong friend, of a dire but treatable diagnosis. The friend goes on to angrily disregard what you have to say, for a variety of very human reasons, as you watch helplessly as their pain and illness unfold over the rest of their now-shortened life. “Returning to our patient, I feel frustrated that my friend won’t listen,” he concluded.

Dr. Helen McGregor, a research fellow at the Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences, shared a very emotionally honest letter about her experience as a climate scientist. Here is what she wrote in full:

I feel like nobody’s listening. Ok Sure, some people are listening but not enough of our leaders are listening – those that make decisions that influence all our lives. And climate change is affecting and will continue to affect all our lives.

I feel perplexed at why many of our politicians, business leaders, and members of the public don’t get that increased CO2 in the Earths atmosphere is a problem. The very premise that CO2 traps heat is based on fundamental physics – the very same physics that underpins so much of modern society. The very same physics that has seen higher C02 linked with warmer periods in the geological past. And sure, there have been warm periods in the past and the Earth weathered the storm (excuse the pun) but back then there weren’t millions of people, immovable infrastructure, or entire communities in harms way.

I feel astonished that some would accuse me of being part of some global conspiracy to get more money – if I was in it for the money I would have stayed working as a geologist in the mining industry. No, I do climate research because I find climate so very interesting, global warming or not.

I feel both exasperation and despair in equal measure, that perhaps there really is nothing I can do. I feel vulnerable, that perhaps by writing this letter I expose myself to trolling and vitriol – perhaps I’m better off just keeping quiet.


Dr. Jennie Mallela with the Research Schools of Biology and Earth Sciences at the Australian National University shared a range of emotions, including optimism.

“I believe people are capable of amazing things and I do believe that climate change can be halted and even reversed,” she wrote. “I just hope it happens in my lifetime. I don’t want to become the generation that future children talk of as having destroyed the planet. I’d like to be the generation that fought back (and won) against human induced climate change. The generation that worked out how to live in harmony with the planet – that generation!”

She wasn’t alone.

“So whilst there is enough good and committed people we can change our path of warming,” wrote Dr. Jim Salinger, an honorary research associate in climate science with the University of Auckland’s School of Environment. However, he went on to add, “I am always hopeful – but 4 to 5 degrees Celsius of change will be a challenge to survive.”

I asked Dr. Ira Lefier, an Atmospheric/Oceanic Scientist whose research has focused on methane how he felt about our current situation. He expressed his concerns and frustration, but also optimism.

“I find the current situation is highly distressing, in that the facts regarding global warming have been known for many decades, because like an aircraft carrier avoiding a collision, course changes can easily be managed well in advance, but become impossible at the last minute – inertia seals the future destiny,” he said. “And I ask myself, what did we (scientists and activists and concerned citizens of the planet), how did we get here, so close to the midnight? And I think that there was a tragic underestimate based on the successful campaign to save the Ozone Layer through the fight against CFCs – a gas with almost no political lobby, that the global society could easily accept the widespread changes needed to address global climate change through reducing CO2 emissions – which affects almost everyone on the planet. And that political change could be engendered simply by scientists presenting their facts and observations.

“So yes, I find it highly distressing that we are having a societal discussion on whether to take climate change seriously, half a century late. Still, I refuse not to be an optimist, – it is not yet too late. I continue to do whatever I can both scientifically and by communicating with the public, firstly, because it is the right thing to do, and secondly, in the hope and belief that even now, positive action will reduce the damage from ma warming climate to the ecosystem. I refuse to accept ‘apres moi le deluge’ [after me comes the flood].”


“As a human-being, and especially as a parent, I feel concerned that we are doing damage to the planet,” wrote Professor Peter Cox, of the University of Exeter, on the blog. “I don’t want to leave a mess for my children, or anyone else’s children, to clear-up. We are currently creating a problem for them at an alarming rate – that is worrying.”

Professor Gabi Hegerl, a professor of climate system science with the University of Edinburgh, wrote, “I look at my children and think about what I know is coming their way and I worry how it will affect them.”

Dr. Sarah Perkins, a climate scientist and extreme events specialist with the University of New South Wales, shared both her concern and hope about our Earth.

For sometime now I’ve been terribly worried. I wish I didn’t have to acknowledge it, but everything I have feared is happening. I used to think I was paranoid, but it’s true. She’s slipping away from us. She’s been showing signs of acute illness for quite a while, but no one has really done anything. Her increased erratic behavior is something I’ve especially noticed. Certain behaviors that were only rare occurrences are starting to occur more often, and with heightened anger. I’ve tried to highlight these changes time and time again, as well as their speed of increase, but no one has paid attention.

It almost seems everyone has been ignoring me completely, and I’m not sure why. Is it easier to pretend there’s no illness, hoping it will go away? Or because they’ve never had to live without her, so the thought of death is impossible? Perhaps they cannot see they’ve done this to her. We all have.

To me this is all false logic. How can you ignore the severe sickness of someone you are so intricately connected to and dependent upon. How can you let your selfishness and greed take control, and not protect and nurture those who need it most? How can anyone not feel an overwhelming sense of care and responsibility when those so dear to us are so desperately ill? How can you push all this to the back of your mind? This is something I will never understand. Perhaps I’m the odd one out, the anomaly of the human race. The one who cares enough, who has the compassion, to want to help make her better.

The thing is we can make her better!! If we work together, we can cure this terrible illness and restore her to her old self before we exploited her. But we must act quickly, we must act together. Time is ticking, and we need to act now.

Sharing both his frustration and concern, Dr. Alex Sen Gupta with the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New South Wales wrote:

I feel frustrated. The scientific evidence is overwhelming. We know what’s going on, we know why it’s happening, we know how serious things are going to get and still after so many years, we are still doing practically nothing to stop it. I feel concerned that unmitigated our inaction will cause terrible suffering to those least able to cope with change and that within my lifetime many of the places that make this planet so special – the snows on Kilimanjaro, the Great Barrier Reef, even the ice covered Arctic will be degraded beyond recognition – our legacy to the next generation.


“My overwhelming emotion is anger; anger that is fuelled not so much by ignorance, but by greed and profiteering at the expense of future generations,” wrote Professor Corety Bradshaw, the director of ecological modeling at the University of Adelaide. “I am not referring to some vague, existential bonding to the future human race; rather, I am speaking as a father of a seven year-old girl who loves animals and nature in general. As a biologist, I see irrefutable evidence every day that human-driven climate disruption will turn out to be one of the main drivers of the Anthropocene mass extinction event now well under way.”

The rest of his letter is worth reading in full:

Public indifference and individual short-sightedness aside, I am furious that politicians like Abbott and his anti-environment henchman are stealing the future from my daughter, and laughing about it while they line their pockets with the figurative gold proffered by the fossil-fuel industry. Whether it is sheer stupidity, greed, deliberate dishonesty or all three, the outcome is the same – destruction of the environmental life-support system that keeps us all alive and prosperous. Climates change, but the rapidity with which we are disrupting the current climate on top of the already heavily compromised environmental health of the planet makes the situation dire.

My frustration with these greedy, lying bastards is personal. Human-caused climate disruption is not a belief – it is one of the best-studied phenomena on Earth. Even a half-wit can understand this. As any father would, anyone threatening my family will by on the receiving end of my ire and vengeance. This anger is the manifestation of my deep love for my daughter, and the sadness I feel in my core about how others are treating her future.

Mark my words, you plutocrats, denialists, fossil-fuel hacks and science charlatans – your time will come when you will be backed against the wall by the full wrath of billions who have suffered from your greed and stupidity, and I’ll be first in line to put you there.

“The Pivotal Psychological Reality of Our Time”

Joe told me the response to his project has been, in general, positive.

“I have received emails from all over the world from people of all walks of life thanking me for establishing the website – from retired grandmothers through to undergraduate university students,” he said. “The letters have been picked up by various social media sites like Science Alert…and have subsequently reached massive audiences.”

He was happy to add that the responses from scientists have been positive, and said his question of “How does climate change make you feel?” is “something they have not been asked before.”

“Of course there have been some very vocal opponents to my work,” Joe added. “This is to be expected. As I have said in the past, there is a small but very vocal group of people out there whose sole goal is to misinform and mislead the general public about climate change. These people don’t have to use the facts, they don’t have to even use the real data. They can cherry-pick from graphs, or even tell flat-out lies in an attempt to mislead the greater public. To what end, who knows? ITHYF [Is This How You Feel] does not exist to change the minds of deniers. It exists to provide an avenue through which every day people can relate to climate change.”

The term “climate change deniers,” then, has an entirely new – and ever more relevant – meaning when viewed through the lenses of the Kübler-Ross five stages of grief, given that “denial” is literally one of the five stages.

Joe is now asking laypeople to send in their letters about how they feel, and plans to publish those as well.

“This approach is not the only way to communicate on climate change, but it is one way, and I certainly feel that it is effective,” he concluded.

The practice of scientists sharing their feelings runs contrary to the dominant consumer capitalist culture of the West, which guards against – and attempts to divert attention from – the prospect of people getting in touch with feelings provoked by witnessing the wholesale destruction of the planet.

In fact, Joanna Macy believes it is not in the self-perceived interest of multinational corporations, or the government and the media that serve them “for us to stop and become aware of our profound anguish with the way things are.”

Nevertheless, these disturbing trends of widespread denial, disinformation by the corporate media, and the worsening impacts of runaway ACD, which are all increasing, are something she is very mindful of. As she wrote in World as Lover, World as Self, “The loss of certainty that there will be a future is, I believe, the pivotal psychological reality of our time.”

We don’t know how long we have left on earth. Five years? 15 years? 30? Beyond the year 2100? But when we allow our hearts to be shattered – broken completely open – by these stark, cold realities, we allow our perspectives to be opened up to vistas we’ve never known. When we allow ourselves to fully experience the crisis in this way, we are then able to truly see it through new eyes.

Like reaching new heights on a mountain, we can see things we’ve never seen before. Our thinking, attitudes, and outlook on life changes dramatically. It is a new consciousness, one in which we realize the pivotal stage in history we find ourselves in.

Perhaps, within this new consciousness, we can live in this time with grace, dignity, and caring. Perhaps, here, we can find ways to save habitat for a few more species, while we share this precious lives and this precious time with loved ones, in the wild places we love so much, on this rare and precious world.

Affective Habitus, Environment & Emotions (Synthetic Zero)

“Ariel Salleh: The Vicissitudes of an Earth Democracy

Even as we face the global crisis, an Earth on fire, the role of water goes unacknowledged. Yet it is water that joins Humanity and Nature, mind and body, subject and object, men, women, queers, children, animals, plants, rocks, and air. Water carries the flow of desire, nourishes the seed, sculpts our valleys, and our imaginations. As water joins heaven and Earth, it steadies climates. But the Promethian drive to mastery, militarism, mining, manufacture, steals water, leaves deserts in its wake. More than peak oil, we face peak water. What kind of ecotheory will turn this Anthropocene around? Who embodies the deep flow of resistant affect that Adorno and Kristeva find in non-identity? Can the universities give us theory that is guided by this logic of water? Or are our canons and cognitions still too embedded in the commodities and objects of fire? While life on Earth falls into Anthropocenic disrepair, a global bourgeois culture promotes ad hoc action as policy and pastiche as style. Timothy Morton’s recent essay ‘The Oedipal Logic of Ecological Awareness’ is provocative in this respect. In response, we ask: What does the hybrid politics of ecological feminism say about affect and the dissolution of old binaries like Humanity versus Nature? How does its embodied materialism translate into an Earth Democracy? Whose affective habitus can nurture nature’s agency – indigenes, mothers, peasants? Whose common labour skills reproduce the unity of water and land?

Eileen Joy: Post/Apocalyptically Blue

This talk is an attempt to think about depression as a shared creative endeavor, as a trans-corporeal blue (and blues) ecology that would bind humans, nonhumans, and stormy weather together in what anthropologist Tim Ingold has called a meshwork, where “beings do not propel themselves across a ready-made world but rather issue forth through a world-in-formation, along the lines of their relationships.” In this enmeshment of the “strange strangers” of Timothy Morton’s dark ecology, “[t]he only way out is down” and art’s “ambiguous, vague qualities will help us to think things that remain difficult to put into words.” It may be, as Morton has also argued, that while “personhood” is real, nevertheless, “[b]oth the surface and the depth of our being are ambiguous and illusory.” And “still weirder, this illusion might have actual effects.” I want to see if it might be possible to cultivate this paradoxical interface (literally, “between faces”) between illusion and effects, especially with regard to feeling blue, a condition I believe is a form of a deeply empathic enmeshment with a world that suffers its own “sea changes” and which can never be seen as separate from the so-called individuals who supposedly only populate (“people”) it.”

Boosting depression-causing mechanisms in brain increases resilience, surprisingly (Science Daily)

Date: April 17, 2014

Source: Mount Sinai Medical Center

Summary: New research uncovers a conceptually novel approach to treating depression. Instead of dampening neuron firing found with stress-induced depression, researchers demonstrated for the first time that further activating these neurons opens a new avenue to mimic and promote natural resilience.

Researchers produced antidepressant-like behavioral effects by reversing out-of-balance electrical activity in reward circuit neurons of susceptible mice exposed to social stress. Further increasing an excitatory current (lh potentiation) triggered a compensatory increase in a potassium channel current (K’ current) — as did activating the potassium channel (K+ current) using pulses of light in mice with brain circuitry genetically engineered to respond to it (optogenetic excessive activation). Credit: Ming-Hu Han, Ph.D., Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

A new study points to a conceptually novel therapeutic strategy for treating depression. Instead of dampening neuron firing found with stress-induced depression, researchers demonstrated for the first time that further activating these neurons opens a new avenue to mimic and promote natural resilience. The findings were so surprising that the research team thinks it may lead to novel targets for naturally acting antidepressants.

Results from the study are published online April 18 in the journal Science.

Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai point out that in mice resilient to social defeat stress (a source of constant stress brought about by losing a dispute or from a hostile interaction), their cation channel currents, which pass positive ions in dopamine neurons, are paradoxically elevated to a much greater extent than those of depressed mice and control mice. This led researchers to experimentally increase the current of cation channels with drugs in susceptible mice, those prone to depression, to see whether it would enhance coping and resilience. They found that such boosting of cation channels in dopamine neurons caused the mice to tolerate the increased stress without succumbing to depression-related symptoms, and unexpectedly the hyperactivity of the dopamine neurons was normalized.

Allyson K. Friedman, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow in Pharmacology and Systems Therapeutics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and the study’s lead author said: “To achieve resiliency when under social stress, the brain must perform a complex balancing act in which negative stress-related changes in the brain actively trigger positive changes. But that can only happen once the negative changes reach a tipping point.”

The research team used optogenetics, a combination of laser optics and gene virus transfer, to control firing activity of the dopamine neurons. When light activation or the drug lamotrigine is given to these neurons, it drives the current and neuron firing higher. But at a certain point, it triggers compensatory mechanisms, normalizes neuron firing, and achieves a kind of homeostatic (or balanced) resilience.

“To our surprise, we found that resilient mice, instead of avoiding deleterious changes in the brain, experience further deleterious changes in response to stress, and use them beneficially,” said Ming-Hu Han, PhD, at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who leads the study team as senior author.

Drs. Friedman and Han see this counterintuitive finding as stimulating research in a conceptually novel antidepressant strategy. If a drug could enhance coping and resilience by pushing depressed (or susceptible) individuals past the tipping point, it potentially might have fewer side effects, and work as a more naturally acting antidepressant.

Eric Nestler, MD, PhD, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai praised the study. “In this elegant study, Drs. Friedman and Han and their colleagues reveal a highly novel mechanism that controls an individual’s susceptibility or resilience to chronic social stress. The discoveries have important implications for the development of new treatments for depression and other stress-related disorders.”

The study, “Enhancing Depression Mechanisms in Midbrain Dopamine Neurons Achieves Homeostatic Resilience,” was also coauthored by J.J. Walsh, B. Juarez, S.M. Ku, D. Chaudhury, J. Wang, X. Li, D.M. Dietz, N. Pan, V.F. Vialou, Z. Yue, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and R. L. Neve at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge MA.

National Institute of Mental Health Grant R01 MH092306 and F32 MH096464 provided support for this research.

Journal Reference:

  1. A. K. Friedman, J. J. Walsh, B. Juarez, S. M. Ku, D. Chaudhury, J. Wang, X. Li, D. M. Dietz, N. Pan, V. F. Vialou, R. L. Neve, Z. Yue, M.-H. Han. Enhancing Depression Mechanisms in Midbrain Dopamine Neurons Achieves Homeostatic ResilienceScience, 2014; 344 (6181): 313 DOI:10.1126/science.1249240

Depression Linked to Telomere Enzyme, Aging, Chronic Disease (Science Daily)

May 23, 2013 — The first symptoms of major depression may be behavioral, but the common mental illness is based in biology — and not limited to the brain. In recent years some studies have linked major, long-term depression with life-threatening chronic disease and with earlier death, even after lifestyle risk factors have been taken into account.

The first symptoms of major depression may be behavioral, but the common mental illness is based in biology — and not limited to the brain. In recent years some studies have linked major, long-term depression with life-threatening chronic disease and with earlier death, even after lifestyle risk factors have been taken into account. (Credit: © diego cervo / Fotolia)

Now a research team led by Owen Wolkowitz, MD, professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco, has found that within cells of the immune system, activity of an enzyme called telomerase is greater, on average, in untreated individuals with major depression. The preliminary findings from his latest, ongoing study will be reported today at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco.

Telomerase is an enzyme that lengthens protective end caps on the chromosomes’ DNA, called telomeres. Shortened telomeres have been associated with earlier death and with chronic diseases in population studies.

The heightened telomerase activity in untreated major depression might represent the body’s attempt to fight back against the progression of disease, in order to prevent biological damage in long-depressed individuals, Wolkowitz said.

The researchers made another discovery that may suggest a protective role for telomerase. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they found that, in untreated, depressed study participants, the size of the hippocampus, a brain structure that is critical for learning and memory, was associated with the amount of telomerase activity measured in the white blood cells. Such an association at a single point in time cannot be used to conclude that there is a cause-and-effect relationship with telomerase helping to protect the hippocampus, but it is plausible, Wolkowitz said.

Remarkably, the researchers also found that the enzyme’s activity went up when some patients began taking an antidepressant. In fact, depressed participants with lower telomerase activity at baseline — as well as those in whom enzyme activity increased the most with treatment — were the most likely to become less depressed with treatment.

“Our results are consistent with the beneficial effect of telomerase when it is boosted in animal studies, where it has been associated with the growth of new nerve cells in the hippocampus and with antidepressant-like effects, evidenced by increased exploratory behavior,” Wolkowitz said. Wolkowitz cautions that his new findings are preliminary due to the small size of the study and must be confirmed through further research.

The researchers also measured telomere length in the same immune cells. Only very chronically depressed individuals showed telomere shortening, Wolkowitz said.

“The longer people had been depressed, the shorter their telomeres were,” he said. “Shortened telomere length has been previously demonstrated in major depression in most, but not all, studies that have examined it. The duration of depression may be a critical factor.”

The 20 depressed participants enrolled in the study had been untreated for at least six weeks and had an average lifetime duration of depression of about 13 years. After baseline evaluation and laboratory measures, 16 of the depressed participants were treated with sertraline, a member of the most popular class of anti-depressants, the serotonin-selective-reuptake-inhibitors (SSRIs), and then evaluated again after eight weeks. There were 20 healthy participants who served as controls.

The ongoing study still is accepting depressed participants who are not now taking antidepressants. Wolkowitz’s team also studies chronic inflammation and the biochemical phenomenon of oxidative stress, which he said have often been reported in major depression. Wolkowitz is exploring the hypothesis that inflammation and oxidative stress play a role in telomere shortening and accelerated aging in depression.

“New insights into the mechanisms of these processes may well lead to new treatments — both pharmacological and behavioral — that will be distinctly different from the current generation of drugs prescribed to treat depression,” he said. “Additional studies might lead to simple blood tests that can measure accelerated immune-cell aging.”

Wolkowitz’s research is funded by the National Institutes of Health. He is on the scientific advisory board of Telome Health, Inc., a private biotechnology company.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The original article was written by Jeffrey Norris.

Major Depression: Great Success With Pacemaker Electrodes, Small Study Suggests (Science Daily)

Apr. 9, 2013 — Researchers from the Bonn University Hospital implanted pacemaker electrodes into the medial forebrain bundle in the brains of patients suffering from major depression with amazing results: In six out of seven patients, symptoms improved both considerably and rapidly. The method of Deep Brain Stimulation had already been tested on various structures within the brain, but with clearly lesser effect.

The medial forebrain bundle is highlighted in green. (Credit: Volker Arnd Coenen/Uni Freiburg)

The results of this new study have now been published in the international journal Biological Psychiatry.

After months of deep sadness, a first smile appears on a patient’s face. For many years, she had suffered from major depression and tried to end her life several times. She had spent the past years mostly in a passive state on her couch; even watching TV was too much effort for her. Now this young woman has found her joie de vivre again, enjoys laughing and travelling. She and an additional six patients with treatment resistant depression participated in a study involving a novel method for addressing major depression at the Bonn University Hospital.

Considerable amelioration of depression within days

Prof. Dr. Volker Arnd Coenen, neurosurgeon at the Department of Neurosurgery (Klinik und Poliklinik für Neurochirurgie), implanted electrodes into the medial forebrain bundles in the brains of subjects suffering from major depression with the electrodes being connected to a brain pacemaker. The nerve cells were then stimulated by means of a weak electrical current, a method called Deep Brain Stimulation. In a matter of days, in six out of seven patients, symptoms such as anxiety, despondence, listlessness and joylessness had improved considerably. “Such sensational success both in terms of the strength of the effects, as well as the speed of the response has so far not been achieved with any other method,” says Prof. Dr. Thomas E. Schläpfer from the Bonn University Hospital Department of Psychiatry und Psychotherapy (Bonner Uniklinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie).

Central part of the reward circuit

The medial forebrain bundle is a bundle of nerve fibers running from the deep-seated limbic system to the prefrontal cortex. In a certain place, the bundle is particularly narrow because the individual nerve fibers lie close together. “This is exactly the location in which we can have maximum effect using a minimum of current,” explains Prof. Coenen, who is now the new head of the Freiburg University Hospital’s Department of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery (Abteilung Stereotaktische und Funktionelle Neurochirurgie am Universitätsklinikum Freiburg). The medial forebrain bundle is a central part of a euphoria circuit belonging to the brain’s reward system. What kind of effect stimulation exactly has on nerve cells is not yet known. But it obviously changes metabolic activity in the different brain centers.

Success clearly increased over that of earlier studies

The researchers have already shown in several studies that deep brain stimulation shows an amazing and-given the severity of the symptoms- unexpected degree of amelioration of symptoms in major depression. In those studies, however, the physicians had not implanted the electrodes into the medial forebrain bundle but instead into the nucleus accumbens, another part of the brain’s reward system. This had resulted in clear and sustainable improvements in about 50 percent of subjects. “But in this new study, our results were even much better,” says Prof. Schläpfer. A clear improvement in complaints was found in 85 percent of patients, instead of the earlier 50 percent. In addition, stimulation was performed with lower current levels, and the effects showed within a few days, instead of after weeks.

Method’s long-term success

“Obviously, we have now come closer to a critical structure within the brain that is responsible for major depression,” says the psychiatrist from the Bonn University Hospital. Another cause for optimism among the group of physicians is that, since the study’s completion, an eighth patient has also been treated successfully. The patients have been observed for a period of up to 18 month after the intervention. Prof. Schläpfer reports, “The anti-depressive effect of deep brain stimulation within the medial forebrain bundle has not decreased during this period.” This clearly indicates that the effects are not temporary. This method gives those who suffer from major depression reason to hope. However, it will take quite a bit of time for the new procedure to become part of standard therapy.

Journal Reference:

  1. Thomas E. Schlaepfer, Bettina H. Bewernick, Sarah Kayser, Burkhard Mädler, Volker A. Coenen. Rapid Effects of Deep Brain Stimulation for Treatment-Resistant Major DepressionBiological Psychiatry, 2013; DOI:10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.01.034

Depressão na Pós-Graduação e Pós-Doutorado, artigo de Sergio Arthuro (JC)

JC e-mail 4618, de 06 de Novembro de 2012.

Sergio Arthuro é médico, doutor em Psicobiologia e divulgador científico. Artigo enviado ao JC Email pelo autor.

A imagem de nós cientistas no senso comum, como estereotipada por Einstein, é que somos meio loucos. De fato, como revelado recentemente pela revista Nature, parece que realmente não temos uma boa saúde mental, dada a alta ocorrência de depressão entre pós-graduandos e pós-doutorandos.

Os pós-graduandos são os estudantes de mestrado e de doutorado, enquanto os pós-doutorandos são os recém doutores em aperfeiçoamento, que ainda não conseguiram um emprego estável. Os pós-doutorandos são comuns há muito tempo nos laboratórios da Europa e dos Estados Unidos, já no Brasil este é um fenômeno recente.

Segundo o texto, boa parte dos estudantes de pós-graduação que desenvolvem depressão foram ótimos estudantes na graduação. Lauren, doutoranda em química na Universidade do Reino Unido, começou com dificuldade em focar nas atividades acadêmicas, evoluiu com medo de apresentar a própria pesquisa, e terminou sem nem mesmo conseguir sair da cama. Felizmente, Lauren buscou ajuda e agora está terminando o seu doutorado, tendo seu caso relatado no site de ajuda Students Against Depression, cujo objetivo é “desenvolver a consciência de que a depressão não é uma falha pessoal ou uma fraqueza, mas sim uma condição séria que requer tratamento”, segundo a psicóloga Denise Meyer, que ajudou no desenvolvimento do site.

Para os cientistas em início de carreira, a competição no meio acadêmico pode levar a isolamento, ansiedade e insônia, que podem gerar depressão. Esta pode ser acentuada se o estudante de pós-graduação tiver problemas extracurriculares e/ou com seu orientador. Já que a depressão altera significativamente a capacidade de fazer julgamento racional, o deprimido perde a capacidade de se reconhecer como tal. Aqui, na minha opinião, o orientador tem um papel fundamental, mas que na prática não tenho observado muito: não se preocupar apenas com os resultados dos experimentos, mas também com a pessoa do estudante.

De acordo com o texto, os principais sinais de depressão são: a) inabilidade de assistir as aulas e/ou fazer pesquisa, b) dificuldade de concentração, c) diminuição da motivação, d) aumento da irritabilidade, e) mudança no apetite, f) dificuldades de interação social, g) problemas no sono, como dificuldade para dormir, insônia ou sono não restaurativo (a pessoa dorme muito, mas acorda cansada e tem sono durante o dia).

Segundo o texto, a maioria das universidades não tem um serviço que possa ajudar os estudantes de pós-graduação. Não obstante, formas alternativas se mostraram relativamente eficazes. Por exemplo, mestrandos e doutorandos poderiam procurar ajuda em serviços oferecidos a alunos de graduação; já os pós-doutorandos poderiam tentar ajuda em serviços oferecidos a professores, sugerem os autores do texto. A maioria dos tratamentos requer apenas uma sessão em que são discutidas as dificuldades dos estudantes, além de sugestões de como manejar melhor a depressão. Uma das principais preocupações é com relação à confidencialidade, que deve ser quebrada apenas se o profissional sentir que o paciente tem chance iminente de ferir a si ou a outrem. Segundo Sharon Milgram, diretora do setor de treinamento e educação do Instituto Nacional de Saúde dos Estados Unidos, “buscar ajuda é um sinal de força, e não de fraqueza”.

Devo admitir que o texto chamou minha atenção por me identificar com o tema, tanto na minha própria experiência, quanto na de vários colegas de pós-graduação que também enfrentaram problemas semelhantes. Acho que o sistema atual de pós-graduação tem falhas que podem aumentar os casos de depressão, como as descritas a seguir:

1- O próprio nome “Defesa” no caso do doutorado

Tem coisa mais agressiva que isso? Defesa pressupõe ataque, é isso mesmo que queremos? Algumas pessoas vão dizer que os ataques são às ideias e não às pessoas. Acho que isso acontece apenas no mundo ideal, porque na prática o limite entre as ideias e as pessoas que tiveram as ideias é muito tênue. Mas pior é nos países de língua espanhola, pois lá a banca é chamada de “tribunal”.

2- Avaliações pouco frequentes

Em vários casos, principalmente no começo do projeto, as avaliações são pouco frequentes, o que faz com que o desespero fique todo para o final. No meu caso, os últimos meses antes da “Defesa” foram os piores da minha vida, pois tive bastante insônia, vontade de desistir de tudo etc. Pior também foi ouvir das pessoas que poderiam me ajudar que aquilo era “normal” e que “fazia parte do processo”… Isso não aconteceu apenas comigo, mas com vários colegas de pós-graduação. Acho que para fazer ciência bem feita, como todo trabalho, tem que ser prazeroso, e acredito que avaliações mais frequentes podem evitar o estresse ao final do trabalho.

3 – Prazos pouco flexíveis

Cada vez mais me é claro que a ciência não é linear, e previsões geralmente são equivocadas. Dessa forma, acredito que não deveria haver nem mestrado nem doutorado com prazo fixo. O pós-graduando deveria ter bolsa por cinco anos para desenvolver sua pesquisa, e a cada ano elaboraria um relatório sobre suas atividades e resultados. Uma comissão deveria julgar esse relatório para ver se o estudante merece continuar. Como cada caso é um caso, em alguns casos, dois anos já seriam suficientes para ter um resultado que possa ser publicado num jornal científico de reputação. Isso daria ao cientista a possibilidade de bolsa por mais cinco anos, por exemplo, para ele continuar sua pesquisa. Em outros casos, cinco anos de trabalho não é suficiente, o que pode ser por causa da própria complexidade da pesquisa, ou outros motivos como atraso na importação de material etc. Nesse caso, acho que o estudante deveria ter pelo menos mais três anos de tolerância para poder concluir sua pesquisa, caso os relatórios anuais sejam aprovados, e o estudante comprove que não é por sua culpa que a pesquisa está demorando mais que o previsto.

Senti falta no texto uma discussão com relação ao fato de que para os futuros cientistas que ainda não tem um emprego definitivo, a ausência de estabilidade financeira é também um fator que contribui para o estado de humor dessa classe tão específica e especial de seres humanos.

Sugestão de Leitura:

Gewin, V. (2012) Under a cloud: Depression is rife among graduate students and postdocs. Universities are working to get them the help they need. Nature 490, 299-301