Can a Pill That Boosts “Resilience” Treat Depression?

Apr 11, 2018

By Gary Stix

Self-help books often extoll the value of resilience. Last year one such primer—Bounce: Overcoming Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy—proclaimed: “By strengthening your inner power, your ability to handle stressful situations and your skill in persevering after setbacks threaten to fell you, you’ll develop real resilience—you’ll develop grit.”

This implies weathering adverse life events is a character trait to be cultivated. Exercising, eating right and giving yourself mental pep talks certainly may help. But neuroscientists are learning the story is not quite so simple, and that some people are likely better equipped from birth to deal with adversity. During the last 15 years discoveries about why some brains excel at resisting stress have initiated a search for new drugs to treat depression and post-traumatic stress disorder by enhancing psychological resilience. One of these compounds has now entered early-stage clinical trials.

If the drug is safe and works, it will undoubtedly encounter strong demand; depression—the world’s leading cause of mental disability—never enters full remission in more than half the patients treated with psychotherapies and existing antidepressants.

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