Medical Minute: Effective Help for Mental Illness

By: Jennifer Matthews
By: Jennifer Matthews

These are everyday routines for most of us, but to Marc Pincus, they were obsessions.

"I was spending so much time checking things, and making, trying to make things perfectly lined up, and making sure everything was neat," says Marc.

Marc was diagnosed with major depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, a mental illness that prompts sufferers to repeat habits out of fear that something bad will happen if they don't.

"I would have to look at the clock, see what time it was, turn my head, then turn back around, look at the clock again, and I would have to do this nineteen times before the time changed to next minute, and if it did, then I'd have to start all over again."

He enrolled in a study at UCLA, where doctors used a pet scan of his brain to look for telltale signs that the anti-depressant Paxil would work for him.

"We found that patients who had high activity in part of the brain called the right caudate nucleus, it's one of the deep structures deep in the center of the brain, had a much better response to Paxil, than those who had low activity in that area," says Sanja Saxena, M.D.

Marc's pet scan showed his disorder would respond well to Paxil. That's exactly what happened.

"The worrying, or getting these thoughts that something bad might happen, that started to go away. And so when those thoughts go away, then you don't feel you have to do these things to counteract them, so to speak. The aim of this kind of research is to save patients unnecessary trials of treatments that weren't likely to work."

With any luck, the new science will help more patients leave the darkness of mental illness behind them.

For more information, contact:

Karen Maidment
UCLA OCD Research Program
310-794-7305

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