Your eyes can reveal if you have the post-disaster blues

Washington: Turns out, your eyes really are the windows to your soul as a recent study has found that depression risk following a natural disaster can be predicted via pupil dilation.

Pupil dilation could identify which individuals are at greatest risk for depression following disaster-related stress, and help lead to targeted interventions, according to the research from the Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Researchers recruited 51 women who were living in the greater Binghamton, N.Y., area at the time of a catastrophic 2011 flood and who reported a life event indicating that they or their child had been impacted by the flood to some extent.

To participate in the study, women were either required to have a lifetime history of major depressive disorder or no lifetime diagnosis of any DSM-IV mood disorders.

The researchers’ findings indicated that decreased pupil dilation to emotional facial expressions predicted a significant increase in post-flood depressive symptoms, but only among women who experienced higher levels of flood-related stress.

“One of the theories of depression is that there’s a lot of vulnerabilities for depression that lay latent until stress activates them,” said lead author Mary Woody. “Our idea with the flood is. Here’s this big objective experiment where there’s a disaster outside of everyone’s control, and it’s happening to the community and there’s kind of varying levels of stress that are happening at each of these family dyads. Our idea was to look at a vulnerability factor/risk factor pupil response and see if we could predict which families have the most depression following the flood if they had more of this particular risk factor.”

The findings suggest that interventions designed to target deficits in cognitive-affective responding may be effective for prevention and intervention programs for depression following natural disasters.

The study is the first to examine how pupillary response to emotional stimuli may interact with life stress to predict prospective depression. If replicated and extended, the current findings may further our understanding of how cognitive-affective response plays a role in stress and depression and also aid clinicians in identifying those most at risk following a natural disaster, wrote the researchers.

The study appears in the journal Clinical Psychological Science. (ANI)