Just like cancer, mental illness isn’t always a one-time event.
Through treatment, individuals living with depression can be remitted – however, similar to cancer, ‘remission’ does not necessarily mean that the illness has been cured.
Risk of relapse in formerly depressed individuals can be high (especially for those who have recurrent depressive episodes), which is why Emma Lynn, a M.Sc. candidate in Neuroscience at the University of Ottawa, has focused her research on assessing brain activity in formerly depressed individuals – a traditionally understudied group.
“Often, when people are remitted, their depression becomes considered out of sight, out of mind,” she said.
“It’s really important, however, to research these individuals – especially those with recurrent depressive episodes, as the risk of relapse after just one depressive episode is as high as 70-80 percent, and this risk increases as a function of the number of previous episodes.”
One neurobiological factor that can contribute to depression relapse is continued cognitive impairment.
Cognitive dysfunction is a key symptom of major depressive disorder (MDD), and disturbances in two key areas of cognition – attention and decision-making – have been found to persist in MDD patients, even after recovery.
Under the supervision of the IMHR’s Dr. Verner Knott and Dr. Natalia Jaworska, Emma is currently employing multi-modal brain imaging techniques to try to better understand continued cognitive impairment in remitted individuals.
She said her hope is that her research will help inform the development of treatments to improve daily cognitive functions for these individuals, and reduce the risk of depression relapse.
“Improving daily function [in remitted individuals] is a really important thing – if people are reporting that they are experiencing these impairments, that often means it is having a very real impact on their lives,” said Emma.
“As researchers, we want to help people not only recover from depression, but to have a good quality of life as well.”
Emma plans to use the funds received from the IMHR Graduate Student Research award to travel to Chicago, Illinois in May 2019 to attend the Society of Biological Psychiatry’s annual scientific conference.
Her longer-term goal is to extend her current research project, and pursue a PhD in Neuroscience.
The IMHR Graduate Student Research Award is generously funded by The Jennie James Depression Research Fund, The Allison Lees Depression Research Fund and The Louise Helen Waddington Research Fund, through The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.