According to Ed Bullmore, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, depression is a physical illness that could be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. Growing evidence shows that an overactive immune system causes widespread inflammation, leading to depressive symptoms such as unhappiness, hopelessness, and fatigue.
In October 2016, the journal Molecular Psychiatry published a review of research that revealed that the new class of anti-inflammatory drugs were found to reduce symptoms of depression. According to Molecular Psychiatry, nearly one-third of individuals diagnosed with chronic depression are shown to have higher levels of cytokines, proteins that regulate the immune response. This could indicate inflammation in their brains.
“It’s pretty clear that inflammation can cause depression,” Bullmore said. “In relation to mood, beyond reasonable doubt, there is a very robust association between inflammation and depressive symptoms. The question is, ‘does the inflammation drive the depression or vice versa or is it just a coincidence?’ In experimental medicine studies if you treat a healthy individual with an inflammatory drug, like interferon, a substantial percentage of those people will become depressed. So we think there is good enough evidence for a causal effect.”
Think of the last time you were sick. When we’re sick with the flu or common cold, the body enters an inflammatory state as it prepares to fight off the illness. When the body is inflamed, we experience symptoms very similar to depression – irregular sleep patterns, change in appetite, fatigue, depressed mood, etc. “Depression and inflammation often go hand in hand,” Bullmore said. “If you have flu, the immune system reacts to that, you become inflamed and very often people find that their mood changes too.” Chronic depression may be a symptom of the immune system failing to “switch off” after a trauma or illness, leading to widespread inflammation.
Many people do not fully understand depression. It’s one thing when you’re feeling sad or in a depressed mood—those are normal human emotions we have all experienced at one point or another. Depression is something greater. Depression is persistent, it is an overwhelming period of sadness that affects our emotional and physical well-being. It is a serious illness that over 350 million people worldwide currently suffer from. Those with chronic depression can’t just “pull themselves together.” If depression were seen as a physical illness rather than a mental problem, it could completely change our approach as to how we treat depression, and it could encourage many more to finally seek treatment.
This content was inspired by an article that can be found here.