Are New Treatments for Depression Right Under Our Nose?

Posted on December 31, 2014

Photo: flickr

Intuitively, we all know that our voice changes when our mood changes. Research at the University of Maryland is now adding science to that insight. At the October 2014 meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), a study was reported that found a correlation between depression and certain measurable acoustic properties.

In 2007, researchers had looked at the link between speech patterns and depression and noted that when our mood changes, our voice changes. They monitored patient depression levels while recording them speaking without restrictions about their day.

The current research followed six patients from the previous study whose moods fluctuated. They found that when the patients reported being depressed, their speech was slower and breathier. There also were acoustic fluctuations in frequency and amplitude, which are respectively referred to as jitter and shimmer. The more depressed patients were, the higher their jitter and shimmer, and the more their voices sounded hoarse or rough.

The researchers are hoping eventually to create an acoustic profile of depression-typical speech with the longer-range goal of creating a phone app. They are thinking that an app analyzing speech would be useful for self-monitoring emotional states and popular with teens and young adults. It also will be valuable for those who may not realize they are depressed.

Take a deep breath…

About a third of depressed patients do not improve using existing medical and psychological treatments, and most antidepressant and even rapid forms of psychotherapy, such as CBT, can take weeks to work. The search for new interventions to alleviate the effects of depression safely and effectively is relentless.

Enter nitrous oxide. “Laughing gas” has been used in the fields of medicine and dentistry as an anesthetic for more than a century and a half. However, in the December 2014 issue of Biological Psychiatry, research was reported on the use of nitrous oxide on patients with severe symptoms of depression who had not responded to regular therapies.

Twenty patients received oxygen and nitrous oxide and were evaluated both on the date of the treatment and the following day. Two-thirds reported improvement. When inhaling a placebo of oxygen and nitrogen, only a third of the same patients changed for the better. In this double-blind study, neither the researchers nor the patients knew when the nitrous oxide was being inhaled, or when it was the placebo.

What is attractive about these findings is that a fast-acting treatment could be very helpful for patients with severe depression at risk for suicide, or for temporary relief until methods that are more standard start to work.

The good news is these results are promising. But although the outcomes are hopeful, they were conducted with very few patients. In every instance the researchers called for the need for a larger number of participants to further validate these results.


Source material from PsychCentral