By Roberta Tovey, Ph.D.
Millions of people suffer from depression and bipolar disorder, but the treatments we have today, though helpful for some, do not work for everyone. Some treatments can work for a while, but become less effective over time. Others come with problematic side effects. Alternative therapies, like exercise and meditation, are often overlooked.
To complicate things further, doctors today do not know how to determine which treatment will work best for the individual patient. As a result, many people with depression and bipolar disorder go through a grueling period of trial and error to find a treatment that works. Some never do.
Based at Massachusetts General Hospital and poised to launch this month, MoodNetwork is an online network of people who live with mood disorders, plus clinicians and researchers. The first study of its kind, MoodNetwork’s goal is not only to improve treatments for depression and bipolar disorder, but to fundamentally change the way we research, diagnose, and treat these illnesses.
How? First, by gathering lots of data. By bringing together 50,000 or more people with depression or bipolar disorder, MoodNetwork will gather a large pool of data on these illnesses, allowing for analysis, assessments and research on an unprecedented scale. “With the amount of data we can collect, we hope to identify what treatments work best for so many who suffer from these illnesses,” says Dr. Andrew Nierenberg, director of MoodNetwork. “We will be able to answer questions that matter to those who live with mood disorders and their families, as well as the doctors who treat these conditions.”
Second, MoodNetwork will change how we research, diagnose, and treat these illnesses by putting patients in the driver’s seat. In addition to seeking to collect data, MoodNetwork is committed to getting patients involved both in their own treatment and in research for new treatments. Such involvement is especially critical in the area of mental illness, where many patients feel powerless and unheard. Despite advances in educating the public about depression and bipolar disorder, there is still a stigma attached to these illnesses that makes it difficult for many to discuss or even disclose their conditions with family, friends, and co-workers.
“Involving patients in their treatment is essential to mental health,” says Louisa Sylvia, Ph.D, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and MoodNetwork’s director of operations. “Participants in this study will work with clinicians and researchers to evaluate the treatments they receive, to set priorities in research, and to pose questions that will lead to better treatments.”
“MoodNetwork is a true partnership between people with mood disorders, clinicians and researchers,” says Nierenberg. And this partnership is essential to MoodNetwork’s mission. “If we want to find more effective treatments for depression and bipolar disorder—if we want to improve the lives of those who live with these illnesses—we need to learn from each other. If you or someone you love might be interested in participating in MoodNetwork, you can contact Mood Network at moodnetwork@partners[dot]org.”
Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles.