Researchers are making headway in understanding depression, allowing for the development of better treatments, especially now that the physical source of the condition has been found.

In a study published in the journal Brain, researchers from UK's University of Warwick and China's Fudan University showed which part of the brain is affected by depression, identifying the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. As this region is implicated in non-reward, activity within that part of the brain leads to a sense of disappointment and loss when a reward is not received.

The lateral orbitofrontal cortex is also connected to the brain region involved in one's sense of self, so when that part of the brain is activated, it also has the potential to lead to thoughts of low self-esteem and personal loss.

Additionally, depression is associated with low connectivity between the brain's reward area within the medial orbitofrontal cortex and its memory systems, which could help explain why those with the condition have a reduced ability to focus on happier memories.

For the study, nearly 1,000 Chinese subjects underwent brain scans using high-precision MRI. This gave the researchers a closer look at the connections between the lateral and medial orbitofrontal cortices of the brain, both of which are affected by depression.

By going to the root cause of depression, the researchers are hoping that their discoveries could be used to aid in innovating depression treatment. According to Jianfeng Feng, one of the study's authors, more than one in 10 people are afflicted with depression at some point in their lives and it's growing in prevalence in today's modern world.

"We can even find the remains of Prozac in the tap water in London," he added.

In the United States, Mental Health America's State of Mental Health Report revealed that more than 40 million are living with mental health issues. The upside is that mental health care has improved and expanded, but more than half of American adults with mental health issues are not getting needed treatment.

It's no better, however, with the younger demographic, with six out of 10 young people exhibiting major depression symptoms but do not have access to the necessary medication or simply any kind of assistance.

According to the report, Connecticut is the best when it comes to providing mental health care while Nevada ranks last, not only having the highest prevalence of mental health issues but also offering the lowest rate of access to needed care.

"Mental illness touches everyone. We must improve access to care and treatments," said Paul Gionfriddo, Mental Health America CEO and president.

Photo: Ralph Paglia | Flickr

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