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Seeing Depression and Anxiety on a Brain Scan

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Mental illness is a big thing and for the first time we are able to see depression and anxiety on a brain scan.

Mental illness is sometimes looked at as a character weakness or something a person just has to “shake off.” New research using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain shows that there is a specific pattern of structural anomalies in the brain tissue of patients who have a diagnosis of depression and social anxiety. These findings could be a significant breakthrough in not only the treatment of mental illness but also the end of the stigma that some face when trying to recover and treat depression and anxiety.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) can also be debilitating and prevent someone from enjoying friendships, a social life or even daily activities that involve being out in the community among people. MDD and SAD share some of the same symptoms, and it’s not uncommon for a patient to be diagnosed with both. Many research studies have looked at the theory of whether or not the two disorders might have the same underpinnings in the brain. In the most recent research, the two conditions were examined regarding structural components.

In the groups of patients with MDD and SAD, there were grey matter differences that were not shown in the healthy study participants. The abnormalities were most prevalent is the salience and dorsal attention networks. Both of these brain regions are involved focus, attentiveness and processing stimuli in order of importance.

To function appropriately in social situations, work, and relationships, the brain needs to sort out all the stimuli in our environment. This process is often disrupted in patients with MDD or SAD. In the study results, the patients who had a mental health diagnosis had thicker grey matter in the insular cortex, compared to the healthy controls. The insular cortex is an area that is heavily involved in perception, social skills, and self-awareness.

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