In life we commonly put up with discomfort and even accept danger when working toward our goals. We do this because we expect a positive outcome. A sad feature of major depression is how it changes expectations and how negative expectations persist despite evidence to the contrary. Believing that life will never get better leads to behaviors or lack of them such that life does not get better. And, even when things get better this maladaptive processing of information and setting of beliefs and opinions is such that a dark cloud continues to hang over a person’s life. At No Fallen Heroes we have dedicated ourselves to the reduction and elimination of veteran suicide and major depression is a significant risk factor for suicide. Understanding major depressive disorder is critical to successful treatment.
Negative Expectations As a Core Feature of Major Depressive Disorder
Researchers published information about negative expectations and major depressive disorder in Frontiers of Psychology, 2017; 8: 9. Their conclusion is that this aspect of depression is due to information processing in the brain that is not working correctly (maladaptive). Much of this has to do with the self-concept of the person. Unfortunately when a person is depressed, tends to isolate, and is not effectively addressing issues in their life things tend to get worse and the person tends to see themselves as inadequate, unable to deal with the challenges of life and a loser. This collection of features of depression lead to a self-reinforcing view that nothing ever works, nothing will ever work, and one might just as well not even try.
Making Perceptions and Expectations More Positive
In psychological conditions like PTSD and depression the “psychological” aspects of a person’s condition have physical and chemical counterparts in the brain. The amygdala is a small processing center in the brain. It connects by neural circuits to many parts of the brain and helps coordinate social and emotional behaviors. It is often referred to as the “fear center” as repeated and severe anxiety, fear, and trauma heighten the manner in which this part of the brain solidifies fearful and traumatic connections. Because of the way this “fear center” works people essentially rehearse and therefore strengthen memories of trauma and perceptions of oneself as unable to overcome obstacles. The way in which psychologists attempt to treat these conditions is by having the patient recall past events, bring them to the present and learn to think of them rationally instead of fearfully or in a depressed, hopeless manner. A major problem with this approach is that when depression and PTSD are deeply ingrained the mere recall of past events can bring on panic and hopelessness. Here is where new therapies using psychedelic medicines come into the picture.
How Do Psychedelic Drugs Help Depression and PTSD?
As we noted, psychological factors have physical aspects in the brain and especially as relate to the amygdala. Most people think of psychedelics as recreational and commonly dangerous drugs. They commonly contain dangerous contaminants, can be taken in excessive dosages, and are generally used in settings that confer no therapeutic advantage like loud rock concerts. In a therapeutic setting psychedelics like MDMA and psilocybin are given in therapeutic dosages, as pharmaceutically pure drugs, and in settings designed to make the patient better. Both of these drugs have special status with the FDA because of their promise in treating PTSD and depression. In each case they are used as adjuncts to psychotherapy. With just a dose of two preceding therapy sessions a veteran will be able to call up past events, deal with them in therapy, and improve their condition. Improvement has been shown to last up to six years!
Anticipating a Positive Future Instead of Thinking About Suicide
When treating depression or PTSD with the end goal of preventing suicide the hope should not be to just erase negative thoughts and expectations but to replace them with thoughts of a positive future. What life is empty of good expectations negative ones tend to creep it. It is a bit the old saying that the devil finds work for idle hands. The devil finds work for idle thoughts as well. At No Fallen Heroes we are excited about the prospects of psychedelic medicines in the treatment of PTSD and depression and the reduction and then elimination of veteran suicide. You are invested to join us in this task.