Healing from space for victims of depression

September 25th, 2008 - 2:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 25 (IANS) A futuristic NASA programme to help astronauts cope with space flight blues will also benefit people with similar conditions back home.”This project has great potential as a self-guided treatment for many people,” said NASA project leader James Cartreine, a member of National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) Neurobehavioral and Psychosocial Factors Team.

“Depression is the number one cause of disability days in the US, but it’s not only about days lost. Depression also results in presenteeism - showing up for work but not really working,” he added.

The depression treatment programme is part of the Virtual Space Station (VSS), a multi-media programme that addresses multiple types of potential psychosocial problems and can be used for training before, and for assistance during, missions, according to an NSBRI news release.

Cartreine, a Harvard Medical School psychologist based in Boston, said the VSS will make effective therapeutic depression treatment more easily accessible to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and proposed missions to the moon and Mars.

Project co-investigator and former astronaut Jay Buckey said long-duration spaceflight can be tough on astronauts. “On a mission, they face a lot of challenges that could lead to depression,” Buckey said.

Buckey, professor at Dartmouth Medical School, said the depression module and other aspects of the VSS are based upon proven methods. “These are unique NSBRI products that did not exist before,” Buckey said.

Cartreine and Buckey, who received input from 29 current and former astronauts while designing the VSS, said: “It can be delivered to the ISS on a flash drive and run directly from that drive, so that the astronaut has complete control over his or her data. The user is the only one who can share the information with others.”

Cartreine said feedback from that early test run has been positive, and a clinical evaluation of the latest version on 68 Boston-area volunteers is about to begin.

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