The symptoms of a mental disorder often differ from one person to another, even when people share the same diagnosis. Individual symptoms also have an effect on each other. So, a change in one symptom can cause a person’s overall mental condition to get better or worse. This network of symptoms is the focus of the group of scientists working together in the consortium New Science of Mental Disorders (NSMD).
With the help of a Gravitation grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW), NSMD was able to start its research in 2020.
This is extremely interesting and, above all, very relevant research. After all, one in four people struggle with a mental disorder at some point in their lives. This not only includes depression, but also anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, personality disorders, addiction and much more.
A practical example
The DSM (which is by far the most widely used diagnostic tool for mental disorders), uses nine symptoms that determine the clinical picture of ‘depression’. If an individual has at least five of the nine symptoms, they are diagnosed with ‘depression’ and are usually prescribed a standardised treatment protocol for depression. However, person A may have five different symptoms than person B, even though they are both diagnosed with depression. In addition, person A could also have an addiction problem while person B could be experiencing anxiety.
With the current standard of care, these individuals with different symptoms are likely to receive a similar treatment according to the ‘depression protocol’. By customising the treatment protocol based on the individual’s specific network of symptoms rather than basing it on a generalised protocol, we believe that the treatment will be more effective. Ultimately, this would mean that person A would receive a different treatment protocol than person B, based on his or her own personal symptom network.