Somewhat of an annus horribilis, opening with the abhorrent mass attack on women in Cologne, and where the deaths of (increasingly) numerous celebrities was broadly overshadowed by the political upsets of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. The questions that have interested me in the last few years may seem to be more "micro" compared to these bigger trends, and yet they still remain...
In ketamine and depression research, it was interesting to see some preclinical work published in super journal Nature examining if ketamine metabolites may have similar antidepressant effects with a less severe side effect profile, seemingly through their impact on a more specific set of receptors. Although I would question the scope for modelling ketamine side effects as psychologically complex as dissociation in animals, it will be interesting to see human trials in future.
With research that I had been involved with getting exposure, it was also of interest to see a trial on probiotics in depression indicate promising results. Researchers from Iran ran a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in patients with depression, and found that patients who took a mix of probiotic bacteria had reduced depression scores compared to those who took a placebo.
The dialogue concerning people's first-hand experiences of mental health continued, from a viral video of a young Irish man discussing his experience of depression (despite a happy-go-lucky outward appearance), to a former Trinity classmate of mine "outing himself" as having bipolar disorder, to an interesting account of a psychologist who described how his experience of manic periods were overall a positive thing for him (albeit he did encounter problems with them).
In the arts world, Dublin writer Rob Doyle's book of short fiction This is the Ritual contained a number of pieces with a strong psychological focus. The story of a young man trying to write a book about Nietzsche, but unable to begin due to his perceived lack of knowledge of the contemporary intellectual context of the philosopher, touches on themes of motivation, sustained attention and imposter syndrome. Other pieces stray into fairly Burroughs-like "Naked Lunch" territory, but the collection as a whole is a good intro to his style. However, if you haven't checked out Doyle's debut novel"Here are the Young Men" yet, please do!
A debut novel from an author from further afield, Emma Cline's The Girls, dealt with a somewhat masochistic protagonist who takes up with a group of charismatic characters. It is essentially a roman a clef about Charles Manson from the point of view of a woman who was involved with his group. However, the focus is generally drawn away from the crimes to broader trends in the character's psyche.
Next year should be an interesting one-watch this space for microbiota and stress stuff coming from my current research program. Some reviews are also hitting the presses that I'll be commenting on next month.