Improving Depression Care in NYC, Wednesday 4 March 2015

Recently First Lady of New York Chirlane McCray continued her passionate campaign to raise awareness about depression and mental health.

In “Shattering the Mental Illness Stigma” (Daily News, February 26), she talks openly about her daughter’s recovery from depression and calls for broad improvements to the mental health system including wider access to care for all New Yorkers.

Last November, the First Lady also brought mental health into the spotlight when she attended our Eighth Annual Hope Luncheon Seminar.  She accepted the HOPE Award for Depression Advocacy on behalf of her daughter, Chiara, whom we honored for speaking publically and personally about battling mood disorders.

How wonderful that McCray continues to bring headline attention to depression and psychiatric illness.  She has a highly visible platform for an urgently-needed message. The more we sustain useful public discussion about depressive illness, the more we will chip away at the stigma that still surrounds it.

But we also want to emphasize the critical role that neuroscience research must play in improved outcomes for mental health treatment.  In her article McCray makes the incisive point: “Our child was in terrible pain, but because it originated in her brain and not another part of her body, there wasn’t an established series of steps to follow.”

The reality is that we need to find the root causes of depression in the brain and the physical, medical diagnosis that have so far eluded us.  We must stop giving medications by trial and error and discover new ways to precisely treat and prevent depression in each individual.  To be sure, the advent of Prozac was a breakthrough in its time, but that was nearly 30 years ago.  Since then there have been no new categories of medication, only “me-too” variations of the original SSRIs and SNRIs, and these are effective in only 50% of patients.

Furthermore, after decades of costly research that has yielded little, many of the large pharmaceutical companies are now closing their brain research programs. Despite its high prevalence, depression ranks very low in federal funding.

That is why your support of HDRF’s mission to fund advanced depression research is so important.  Improved care will not only depend on better services and awareness, but on a far more sophisticated understanding of the brain’s mood centers and how to treat them when they break.

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