This Week in Research: Depression Is Overdiagnosed; UMD Builds a Robo Raven

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A study by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at 5,639 patients who’d been diagnosed as depressed — and found that only 38.4 percent of them met the 12-month criteria for depression. In other words, depression seems to be massively over-diagnosed and over-medicated in the United States.

“Previous evidence has highlighted the under-diagnosis and under-treatment of major depression in community settings.  The new data suggest that the under-diagnosis and under-treatment of many who are in need of treatment occurs in conjunction with the over-diagnosis and over-treatment of others who do not need such treatment,” said Ramin Mojtabai, associate professor in Bloomberg’s Department of Mental Health and author of the study. “There is a need for improved targeting of diagnosis and treatment of depression and other mental disorders in these settings.”

The DSM’s diagnostic criteria for major depression are fairly rigorous, so it’s not surprising that most of the study’s participants didn’t qualify. What is surprising is that many of those people were on medication anyway. Of course, anti-depressants may be prescribed to help people deal with conditions apart from major depressive episodes — still, as Mojtabai says, “Depression over-diagnosis and over-treatment is common in the U.S. and frankly the numbers are staggering,”

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Robots can do all sorts of amazing things, but one seemingly simple task has eluded them — until now. Researchers at the University of Maryland have created the first robotic bird that flies by flapping each of its wings independently of the other. In honor of our beloved local sports franchise, they have dubbed the creature Robo Raven — and it took more than five years to conceive and build.

Earlier Robo Raven prototypes used one motor to flap both wings, but that limited how well the bird could navigate. Independently-operating wings required two programmable motors that could be electronically synchronized — something that required a bigger battery and an on-board micro controller, which weighed Robo Raven down so much that it couldn’t fly.

The ultimate solution came thanks to smarter manufacturing techniques, lightweight polymer parts cut made by a 3D printer, and good old fashioned human ingenuity. On a recent test flight, Robo Raven passed the ultimate test — it fooled a local hawk (of non-robot origin), which tried to attack Robo Raven midflight.



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