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KPBS Midday Edition

Experts Discuss The Mystery Of Severe Depression

New Drug Used To Treat Depression
Why is severe depression so hard to treat? Why are its causes so hard to determine?
Guest: Sidney Zisook, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, UCSD

Absent From Yourself

"The first thing that goes is happiness. You cannot gain pleasure from anything....But soon other emotions follow happiness into oblivion: sadness as you had known it, the sadness that seemed to have led you here; your sense of humor; your belief in and capacity for love. Your mind is leached until you seem dim-witted even to yourself....You lose the ability to trust anyone, to be touched, to grieve. Eventually, you are simply absent from yourself."

Andrew Solomon in "The Noonday Demon"

Last week NPR detailed a new drug, ketamine, that can relieve even suicidal depression almost instantly and works on patients who haven't responded to antidepressants like Prozac.

KPBS Television's "Evening Edition" spoke with Dr. Sidney Zisook, a professor at UC San Diego. He said there are new theories about what causes depression.


The current leading theories, he said, suggest depression is caused by a multitude of factors, including biological, psychological and societal. This means the ways doctors treat depression could change.

Zisook said ketamine, also a club drug called "Special K," is not an ideal drug for depression because it can be abused and causes hallucinations if its dosage is too high. But, he said, the drug's effectiveness is providing hope that future medications could be designed similarly.

"Somebody who can be severely depressed may be a different person within minutes," he said. "It doesn't last, even if the depression is totally eradicated, it may be for days to a week at most."

At least two studies using ketamine are under way in San Diego, Zisook said. One is led by Dr. David Feifel at UC San Diego and the other is occurring at the San Diego Hospice

As reported by NPR, the new class of drugs currently being tested in Houston shows promise in both effectiveness and the speed with which it acts.