This May Be Why You’re Suffering From Treatment Resistant Depression

And, luckily, there's a solution.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
March 18, 2020

Sleep is crucial to our mental health, but for people with mental health disorders, who tend to sleep poorly, it’s especially important because insomnia magnifies perceptions of problems and exacerbates depressive symptoms. Luckily, new research from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University indicates that obstructive sleep apnea may, in part, be responsible for treatment resistant depression, offering sufferers a potential new pathway to relief.

Published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, this study recommends that doctors of patients with treatment resistant depression screen them for obstructive sleep apnea — even if they don’t have the traditional symptoms like daytime sleepiness and insomnia. “No one is talking about evaluating for obstructive sleep apnea as a potential cause of treatment-resistant depression, which occurs in about 50 percent of patients with major depressive disorder,” W. Vaughn McCall, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University and corresponding author of the study, said in a statement. He’s hoping that his research will change that. In fact, McCall and his co-authors recommend that testing for obstructive sleep apnea be part of the guidelines for managing treatment resistant depression.

According to the researchers, getting treated for obstructive sleep apnea may improve symptoms of depression for some people. “We know that patients with sleep apnea talk about depression symptoms,” McCall said in a statement. “We know that if you have obstructive sleep apnea, you are not going to respond well to an antidepressant. We know that if you have sleep apnea and get CPAP [continuous positive airway passage], it gets better and now we know that there are hidden cases of sleep apnea in people who are depressed and suicidal.”

Though there is still more work to be done in this area, if you are living with treatment resistant depression, it couldn’t hurt to talk to your doctor about the possibility of also having obstructive sleep apnea.

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.


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This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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