Mental Health Awareness Week brings attention to the 560 million people across the globe who suffer from mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Society labels depression and anxiety as “mental illness” and looks for treatments that alter brain chemistry and function, but these treatments fail to work in around 50 percent of patients, says Virginia Tech neuroscience expert Georgia Hodes.

New treatments and ways of diagnosing mental illness are needed. According to a recent study in collaboration with the Pasinetti lab at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, compounds metabolized from grapes, dark chocolate, coffee, and blueberries can be used to treat depression.

Quoting Hodes 

“While there are many different antidepressants on the market, they don’t work in everyone.  Most antidepressants do the same thing mechanistically and all of them are designed to act within the brain. Research suggests that we could treat depression in the body.” 

“The brain, like the heart, is just one organ in the body. When you think of heart disease you think of the final impact: a heart attack, which is the failure of the heart. The heart’s performance is dependent upon elements external to it such as the body’s fat cell count, amount of low-density cholesterol, amount of chronic inflammation, sex and hormones. The same is true of mental illness and the brain. While the location of the disease’s most significant impact might be in the brain, many factors outside of the brain contribute.”

“Research shows there are unique differences among individuals in how sensitive the peripheral immune system is to stress. Instead of thinking that there is a single magic bullet, we need to see depression as a heterogeneous disease and understand that different treatments will work for different types of depression.” 

“There is a growing awareness of how the body and brain interacts on a systems level. As a society we are moving towards understanding that mental illness is a disease, just like cancer, heart disease and diabetes rather than a fault of personality.”

About Hodes

Georgia Hodes is an assistant professor of neuroscience in the College of Science at Virginia Tech. The primary goal of her research is to identify biological mechanisms that contribute to individual differences in vulnerability and resilience to stress and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. 

Expertise featured on WVIR (NBC affiliate) and WINA Radio.

Schedule an interview

To secure an interview with Georgia Hodes, contact the VT Media Relations office via Shannon Andrea (; 571-858-3262).

Share this story