Emory University
Bookmark and Share

New Findings

New findings on suicide, depression and heart disease, and living with PTSD.

Suicide sometimes the result of "energized despair":

Publicity about Robin Williams's recent suicide brought home the fact that depression can be fatal. On average, 700 Americans will kill themselves each week, making suicide the 10th most common cause of death in the country. Those with depression, a history of drug and alcohol abuse, and medical problems are especially at risk, says Nadine Kaslow, vice-chair of Emory's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and president of the American Psychological Association. "There is almost never 'one' reason why people die by suicide, but a combination of factors that can push them to a place of energized despair," she says. Williams, reported to have been in the early stages of Parkinson's disease, is a tragic reminder that "anyone can become suicidal, no matter how funny, comical, and happy they may seem," says Kaslow. "No one is immune."

Depression in young women increases risk of heart disease, death:

Women ages 55 or younger are twice as likely to have a heart attack, need open-heart surgery or a stent, or to die (from any cause), if they suffer from moderate or severe depression, found a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. The same increase in risk did not hold true for similarly aged men, or women older than 55. For young women, depression appears to be as powerful a risk factor for heart disease as diabetes and smoking, says study author Amit Shah, an assistant professor of both epidemiology and cardiology at Emory. "Part of the additional hurdle is the stigma in seeking care in the first place," he says. A proven antidote for lessening the risk of both depression and heart disease? Exercise.

"I've had people who told me, 'I don't know why I fought so hard to survive if this is my life now.' "

—Professor Barbara Rothbaum on living with PTSD, "This Emotional Life," PBS.

Therapy for PTSD: Short doses—as little as five sessions—of virtual reality exposure therapy reduces post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in veterans, found researchers led by Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Barbara Rothbaum, in a clinical trial involving Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans with PTSD. The results were especially significant when the therapy was combined with the antibiotic d-cycloserine. (Interestingly, alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax, impaired recovery from symptoms when administered with the therapy). Virtual reality exposure therapy involves being immersed for 30 to 45 minutes in computer-simulated environments similar to those vets experienced in combat with the sights, sounds, and smells of battle, such as explosions, helicopters flying overhead, and smoke.

Email the editor