Mclean Hospital

McLean Launches Center for Depression, Anxiety and Stress Research

May 2, 2011

Depression, anxiety, and stress are a debilitating triad. About one in six Americans will suffer from depression at some point in his or her life; one in four will struggle with an anxiety disorder. Often, the two go hand in hand, triggered by stressors like childhood neglect or the death of a loved one. Left untreated or not accurately diagnosed, these disorders can negatively impact every facet of a person’s life.

Researchers at McLean’s new Center for Depression, Anxiety and Stress Research are working on multiple fronts to uncover novel information about these complex disorders. The center exists thanks to more than $3 million in philanthropic support from several generous donors, including former chairman of the McLean Hospital Board of Trustees John Kaneb.

Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD
Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD

One focus of the center’s investigation is psychological, neurobiological and environmental risk factors that increase vulnerability to depression and anxiety, according to McLean neuroscientist Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD, the center’s director who joined the hospital in July 2010. “If we don’t fully understand what is causing these disorders and their neural underpinnings, our ability to develop targeted interventions will be limited,” he says.

“While antidepressants have been used effectively for half a century, up to half of depressed people do not respond to medication and prescribing is still largely a trial-and-error process,” says Pizzagalli. “We are hoping to develop predictive tools that tell us, for example, that a person with a certain profile might benefit from medication A rather than medication B, or, perhaps, that a person would benefit from psychotherapy.”

Investigators at the center integrate different approaches to understand anxiety disorders and depression, including a psychological perspective, focusing on individuals’ thought patterns, beliefs, and self-perception; and neurobiology, focusing on the anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry of the brain.

“We don’t just study one or the other. We examine virtually every facet of these illnesses, which we hope will pave the way for discovering better prevention and treatment strategies,” Pizzagalli explains.