A diagnostic tool for depression (5×8 – 4/18/12)

The biological markers of depression, Alzheimer’s aware, the ‘lottery curse,’ big hearts in Hawley, and more on Levon Helm.


You people who don’t suffer from depression or know of people who suffer from depression can skip right to #2 today. You may not understand the huge news from the world of science today.

Researchers say a preliminary study has identified certain biological markers in the blood of teens with depression that are absent in healthy counterparts.

They’re not making it up, and they’re not just sad, and it could lead to a diagnostic tool that could identify depression, just as with so many other physical ailments.

Not only could it lead to help for teens who need it, it could muzzle those who dismiss a real illness with “it’s just a phase.”

“Once you have a measurable index of an illness, it’s very difficult to say, ‘Just pull yourself together,’ or ‘Get over it,’ ” study leader Eva Redei, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, tells the Los Angeles Times.

“This is definitely an encouraging study,” said Dr. Andrew Leuchter, a UCLA psychiatrist who is researching ways to improve treatment with genetic testing and was not involved in the new work. Finding a way to intervene with teens would be particularly valuable since a bout of depression early in life makes repeat episodes more likely, and therefore more urgent to treat, he said.

The current study focused on teens and “early onset” depression, but the researchers said they hoped to include adults in future testing.

Redei’s study takes a middle-of-the-road approach to the search for a “biomarker” of depression. Her team did not look for genetic variations that might predispose an individual to depression, nor did it use advanced MRI scans to home in on peculiarities in the way the depressed brain works. Instead, the team focused on the messenger molecules that carry out genetic instructions for producing or inhibiting proteins.


Does this ad mock people with Alzheimer’s, or brutally depict their struggle?

The ad was produced in Brussels as part of a campaign to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s. The site, Buzzfeed, says it does no such thing, preferring this treatment of the illness instead.

Awareness? It’ll come eventually. The Alzheimer’s Association expects that by 2050, 16 million people will have it.

This week, a 58-year-old man’s son set out to walk across the country to do his part to raise awareness. His father fell through the cracks between unemployment and Social Security disability.

In April of 2011, my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 58. My parents lost not only their main source of income, they also lost their health insurance when my dad lost his job, and they cannot afford medical care.

What assistance is available to families is usually offered only to those 65 and older; while few services are available to those 60 and older. My dad is now 59 and we’re pretty much on our own. My parents’ resources have been entirely depleted. They were forced to spend their savings and retirement accounts just to survive. My mom is now trying to be the caretaker for my father and keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

I believe the reason there is so little support and assistance available to people in my parents’ situation is because Alzheimer’s, and all forms of dementia, is still thought of as “old person’s” disease. It’s difficult to gain access to the few resources out there when they can’t even afford to pay the mortgage.

Here’s his website. It’s not getting much attention.


In Illinois today, the winner of the big lottery jackpot a few weeks ago will stand before the cameras and be identified.

Chances are he/she will lose the windfall within five years. There’s something you never see mentioned in the lottery ads and news coverage.

Illinois law does not allow lottery winners to be anonymous, even though more jackpot winners nationally are forming trusts to keep it a secret. For everyone else, the win ushers in a life of requests for cash, the Chicago Tribune reports today.

“It’s the lottery curse: you hear about people who win these huge lotteries and end up broke a few years later,” said Richard Lustig, who writes about improving one’s chances of winning.

“They’re bombarded by media people for interviews. They’re preyed on by people looking for money. The winner should decide whether they want to be in the spotlight or not,” Lustig said.


A woman in Hawley went to the Walmart in Fargo once to pick up a few things, met a pregnant woman, and walked out with a plan to add to her family. The Fargo Forum has the first of a two-part series today on the life of Tommy Greuel, whose head grew faster than the rest of his body….

There was the adoption brokered in the most unlikely of locations. There was the medical mystery of the skull that wouldn’t stop growing, perched precariously atop a body that wouldn’t hold it up and threatening the otherwise-healthy brain inside. There was the bitter battle for custody, and the community that rallied behind a family in its hour of need.


“To anyone who grew up with Levon Helm and the Band, ” Marco Werman wrote last year, “it’s a shock to see him these days, a reminder of our own mortality.” Yeah. He’s right.

Watch Quick Hits: An Interview with Levon Helm on PBS. See more from Sound Tracks.

A vigil is underway for Helm, who is in the final stages of cancer.

Rolling Stone has prepped a gallery of Helm through the years.

Bonus I: . It may soon be illegal for teachers to mention kissing, hand-holding, and other “gateway sexual activities”. (Neatorama)

Bonus II: Cities don’t win in stadium deals, the Modesto Bee says. It’s the story of Sacramento, where an NBA team’s owners are backing out of a deal that put some of their own money into a deal.

Bonus III: Today’s Minnesota moment: The crabapples in bloom at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (submitted by the arboretum)



NASA is delivering its fleet of space shuttles to various sites for public display. The retirement of the shuttles leaves the United States without a vehicle for sending people into space. Today’s Question: What should be the next step for the U.S. space program?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: When Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said Ann Romney hadn’t worked “a day in her life,” it set off a firestorm of controversy about women’s work. Beyond the political headlines, what are the choices working moms (and dads) have to make?

Second hour: Workplace design.

Third hour: Advice columnist Carolyn Hax of the Washington Post.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): “Testing Teachers,” an American RadioWorks education documentary about how we train, hire and evaluate teachers.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Politics talk with NPR political editor Ken Rudin.

Second hour: Roger McGuinn.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – The effects of dementia make it difficult for a person to socialize and communicate. But with iPods and personalized playlists, a social worker has found a way to help many patients open up like they haven’t been able to in years. NPR will have the story.

MPR’s Mark Zdechlik reports Michele Bachmann is still in debt from her unsuccessful presidential campaign. He takes a look at the impact on Bachmann’s fundraising for her congressional re-election.

For 20 years, the Kulture Klub Collaborative in Minneapolis has been pairing accomplished artists with young Minnesotans who have experienced or are experiencing homelessness. Currently, the young people are working with the Mexican-American hip-hop duo Big Quarters, learning about both the creative and business aspects of the music world. Nikki Tundel examines the role of, and reason for, an arts program in the lives of those who don’t have a permanent place to live.

  • Finally – a test for depression. Hopefully this will not only help people with depression but it will also prevent doctors from prescribing anti-depressants to those who don’t need them.

  • Kassie

    “What assistance is available to families is usually offered only to those 65 and older; while few services are available to those 60 and older. My dad is now 59 and we’re pretty much on our own.”

    Social Security Disability does not have an age minimum. If you work 10 years, you can get it, once certified disabled. Someone with Alzheimer’s would be certified disabled very quickly. Did they not apply? A quick search shows that Nevada has Medicaid for the disabled population. Medicaid would cover medical expenses until Medicare kicks in two years after onset of disability. He may have to divorce his wife to meet income limits or spenddown his assets, but it sounds like the assets are now all gone. They may qualify for food stamps too.

    Sure, our safety net sucks. But claims that there is nothing out there are just not true.

  • Jim Shapiro

    It has been known for decades that depression is a chemically-based hereditary illness,

    which is not the same as being really sad when things aren’t going right – which is an emotional response to external factors.

    Prozac hit the market in 1987, and it worked not only for many of those suffering from chemical depression, but for people who were kinda sad as well.

    The rest is history. Follow the money. Always.

  • BenCh

    I know it isn’t the point of the ad (#2), but it bothers me that they used someone in a boy scout uniform. I am sure it is somehow going into the psychology of who we think are honest, but I feel like they could have done without the uniform and still gotten the point across.

  • Jim Shapiro

    BenCh – It bothers you? Bet you have a long list. If not, lemme venture a guess: scout master?

  • Jim Shapiro

    BenCh – Sorry about my snarky comment. I was in a bad mood for unrelated reasons and I irresponsibly lashed out at an undeserving target. Mea culpa.

  • Ethan

    Where is the archive for this? I cannot seem to find it on the website.

  • Bob Collins

    Archive for what?

  • Rebecca

    @Jim Shapiro: The chemical imbalance theory of depression has been thoroughly debunked by decades of scientific research. Read Marcia Angell’s June 2011 article in The New York Review of Books for a review of the science on this topic. (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jun/23/epidemic-mental-illness-why/)

    The same article reviews research showing that Prozac and other SSRIs, far from curing depression, don’t work that much better than placebos.

    The study reported above about a blood test for depression has low statistical power and, even if it is born out by additional research, will explain nothing about the way our biology mediates emotional distress experienced throughout the course of life.

    Children, the elderly and vulernable adults are being drugged out of their minds in this country on the basis of distorted and biased pseudoscience.

    Like you said, Jim, follow the money.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Rebecca – No, in fact the chemical imbalance theory of depression has NOT been debunked.

    The current thinking on depression is that there are MULTIPLE things that can cause or correlate with depression, brain chemical imbalance being an important factor that should be explored.

    Brain chemistry is extremely complex, and individuals respond differently to different treatments.

    Exercise, diet, helping others, changing negative thinking, changing life circumstances, laughter, finding a spiritual discipline, and some type of talk therapy should all first line treatment for depression.

    And while I agree wholeheartedly that anti-depressant meds are over-prescribed and potentially dangerous,

    to deny that the proper use of the proper medication when other solutions fail can (while not always) help alleviate the pain of someone who is suffering from depression is not only misleading, but counterproductive to healing.

  • Rebecca

    Jim: Here’s a quote from Irving Kirsch, a prominent medical researcher who has reviewed depression studies in depth: “It now seems beyond question that the traditional account of depression as a chemical imbalance in the brain is simply wrong.”

    Our brains are biochemical organs, so brain chemistry is always going to be factor in human behavior. That’s different than saying that depression is specifically caused by low neurotransmitter levels. They simply haven’t found evidence that people with depression have abnormally low serotonin levels that are then “re-balanced” by SSRIs.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Rebecca – Thanks for the info on Kirsch’s findings.

    Unfortunately, The Mayo Clinic, The Cleveland Clinic, The American Psychiatric Association, The American Psychological Association, Johns Hopkins Hospital ( I stopped there) apparently didn’t get the memo.

    As I stated earlier, individuals vary in terms of positive responses to different treatments.

    If an SSRI helps someone, one could argue that their serotonin levels were not high enough, and adding serotonin put them into a balance that was appropriate for them. I have never claimed that there is a standard, universal baseline ( aka a balance) of healthy SSRI blood levels.

    I would like to believe that our debate at this point is based on an issue of semantics.

    There are many people who have undeniably been helped by SSRI treatment.

    Their use should of course be monitored closely, and as I stated earlier, any pharmaceuticals should be the second line of defense after non-drug options have already been attempted, but to remove SSRIs from the arsenal of possible treatments for depression would be nothing short of absurd and cruel.