I am intrigued by the interaction between mood and cognition and their underlying physiological systems in mental health disorders. Specifically, I am interested in researching the disruptions in both neural and physiological systems in mental health disorders, such as major depressive disorder, and how to rectify those disruptions. Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most common mental health disorders affecting approximately 7% of the U.S. adult population. The current literature is unclear regarding the interplay of both mental and physiological systems in MDD.
Recently, we published a paper that exhibited a connection between disruptions in early cognitive processes in MDD and a hallmark feature of MDD rumination. Rumination is a thought process that occurs when individuals retrieve and repetitively rehearse autobiographical and negative memories about both the past and present. These findings have allowed us to elucidate on the mood and cognition connection in MDD, while also serving as a framework for further investigation into the physiological systems underlying the relationship.
One particular physiological system that has been previously implicated in the research of mood and cognition in mental health disorders is the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which regulates cardiovascular and stress responses to the environment. Understanding ANS function, which can be measured via heart rate variability (HRV) or the time interval between successive heartbeats, is crucial in order to elucidate on the underpinnings of mood and cognitive disruptions in MDD. Previous findings have demonstrated that proper ANS functioning is essential for the requisite flexibility and resilience in stressful situations. ANS dysfunction, which is associated with poor cardiovascular health and an increase in all-cause mortality, has been observed in MDD and other mental health disorders. Being able to study the disruptions of the ANS will help clarify the emotional and cognitive dysregulation manifested by MDD. I am also interested in researching alternative forms of cost-effective treatments, such as physical activity, exercise, or meditation, and how they improve health-related outcomes in individuals with MDD.
Thus far, my research experience has focused on studying cognitive deficits in MDD; therefore, I desire more training in studying the ANS in individuals with MDD or other mental health disorders in order to become a more well-rounded scientist and truly understand the connection between mood and cognition and the underlying physiological systems. I believe that clarifying the physiological disruptions manifested by MDD would result in an ability to develop alternative clinical approaches to diagnose and treat this health epidemic. It would allow for necessary objective measures to diagnose MDD, without solely relying on subjective diagnostic criteria, and the reliance on more cost-efficient strategies to treat MDD.