Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Depression, helplessness and pain

Depression and pain often go hand-in-hand. More than three-quarters of patients with depression experience recurring or chronic pain and between 30-60% of patients with chronic pain report symptoms of depression. A brain-scanning study of 30 people by researchers at the University of California, San Diego looked into the links between pain, depression and helplessness. Participants were evaluated for their feelings of depression and helplessness and then shown either a green shape or a red one. A green shape indicated that they would receive a non-painful warmth via an electric pad while a red shape indicated that they would receive a dose of painful warmth. In comparison with depression-free participants participants with depression reported increased activity in the right amygdala and decreased activity in areas of the brain responsible for the amelioration of pain. In effect they were more startled by the prospect of pain and less able to control it. Those participants with higher scores for helplessness had higher levels of activation in their right amygdalas after they had been shown the red shape and were anticipating pain.

You can find out more about this research at


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