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A new study suggests a wide spectrum of depression symptoms underlies the frequent ineffectiveness of standard depression treatment.
Depression is generally considered a medical condition. So, it’s assumed people either have the condition or not, and when a diagnosis is made standard treatment options follow.
Yet, unlike many physical disorders, there are no objective tests to verify a depression diagnosis. Instead, professionals ask patients whether they have depression symptoms such as insomnia, hopelessness, or irritability. To query patients, one of seven established depression rating scales is typically used.
Psychologist Eiko Fried at the University of Amsterdam used a content analysis to compare the seven commonly used depression rating scales, and found very little overlap in the symptoms they list. For instance:
Together, the seven depression inventories feature 52 different depression symptoms, so people receiving the same depression diagnosis may be experiencing dissimilar indicators.
“Patients diagnosed with depression are often thought to have similar kinds of problems and therefore receive very similar treatment,” says Fried. “However, the fact that seven common rating scales of depression contain over 50 different symptoms shows how strikingly different depressed patients can be in terms of the problems they experience.”
Fried’s findings might explain why standard depression solutions such as antidepressants only work for a limited number of people, and imply a need for more individualized treatment planning.
The variety of symptoms on diagnostic scales also suggests why analogous depression studies often reach different conclusions. Depression research participants are usually chosen according to their answers on one of the common depression rating scales. This means each research study follows participants that fit the symptom list of a particular inventory. Consequently, Fried believes the study results will only apply to depressed people having a similar cluster of symptoms.
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