Affective disorders: Mind, Body and Society in the limelight

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Highlighting mood disorders is well-timed for mental health awareness week from 21 to 27 May 2012. These include affective disorders such as unipolar and bipolar depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Unipolar depression includes symptoms of low mood and loss of interest or pleasure. The World Health Organisation has estimated that depression is projected to reach second in the ranking of global burden of disease for all ages and both sexes by 2020.

There is a vast amount of research on this topic and lately mind, body and society for affective disorders was addressed at the 6th Biennial Conference organised by the International Society for Affective Disorders in London on the 18th to 20th April 2012. The meeting attracted over 500 psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, epidemiologists, and neuropharmacologists, who gathered at the Royal College of Physicians, the oldest medical college in England. The scientific programme consisted of 3 plenary sessions, 12 symposia, 6 oral presentation sessions and 2 poster viewing exhibitions.

The first symposium on hearts and mind was chaired by Prof Andre Tylee from King’s College London, who described the UPBEAT programme that seeks to understand the relationship between heart disease and anxiety and depression across general practices in South London. Prof Peter de Jonge from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands presented on MIND-IT (Myocardial Infarction and Depression-Intervention Trial) where antidepressant treatment did not alter long-term depression post-myocardial infarction status or improve cardiac prognosis.

The theme of diet and nutrition in mood and anxiety disorders was covered in a symposium chaired by Dr Felice Jacka from Deakin University, who provided an overview on the influence of diet quality on mental health, with public health implications and potential for preventative strategies. Dr Almudena Sanchez-Villegas from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain revealed evidence from the SUN (Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra) project indicating the beneficial effect of the Mediterranean diet on depression.

Metabolic Depression as a specific depression subtype was highlighted in a symposium chaired by Prof Brenda Penninx from VU University Medical Centre, the Netherlands. Findings from the Health, Aging and Body Composition (Health ABC) longitudinal study showed that high leptin was associated with an increased onset of depression in older men with high visceral fat. The data from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA) revealed that depression with metabolic and immune dysregulation could be defined as “metabolic depression” and identified a chronic subtype of depression. Prof Martin Preisig from the University of Lausanne presented on a sample collected from the CoLaus/Psy CoLaus study. The findings from this study showed overweight mediated associations of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and inflammatory markers with atypical depression.

Other themes addressed at the conference included brain stimulation, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), predictors of posttraumatic stress following natural disasters and on stress and depression in childhood and adolescents. Prof Michael Berk highlighted the importance of modification of lifestyle including exercise, diet, smoking and alcohol during standard therapy of mood disorders.

The fascinating plenary lecture finale was delivered by Prof Michael Meaney from McGill University, Montreal, Canada on the epigenetic basis for the transgenerational transmission of individual differences in vulnerability for psychopathology.

Overall the conference addressed psychological, biological and environmental factors that contribute to the aetiology of affective disorders, providing a multi-disciplinary approach for treatment and prevention strategies.