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Play-Filled Environment Trumps Genetics to Defeat Depression

When given consistent opportunity for play, rats kicked their depression symptoms.  Researchers bred rats to have a genetic predisposition for depression then gave them “psychotherapy” in the form of a cage with lots of toys, places to run, hide, climb, and interact with their fellow species.  Within a month, their depressive behavior was dramatically reduced and some of their blood biomarkers for depression changed to non-depressed levels.

The experiment is good news for people who fear that genes may doom them to gloomy feelings forever.  While genes can select for depressive traits, psychotherapy, play, and socialization encourage more positive behavior.

“If someone has a strong history of depression in her family and is afraid she or her future children will develop depression, our study is reassuring. It suggests that even with a high predisposition for depression, psychotherapy or behavioral activation therapy can alleviate it,” says Eva Redei, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.