By Kenneth Miller
When speculating why someone is depressed, medical officials, even the patients themselves, question its origin. The genesis of depression is usually traced back to dilemmas in the subject’s life that have gone awry and without inspection for lapses on end. In other cases, it’s the result of a triggering societal threat on the body. Regardless of the root, we tend to believe the subject’s claim to the illness, for they are inherently inclined to be more aware of their mental stability than an outsider.
However, this isn’t quality reasoning for certain psychologists. The troublesome, not-so-clear derivation led a group of researchers out of the University of California to delve into the source of depression, narrowing the limitless possibilities down to one: an inflammatory response.
With particularly conclusive evidence pointing to the pro-inflammatory “cytokines” (cell signaling molecules that aid cell-to-cell communication in immune responses and stimulate the movement of cells toward sites of inflammation, infection, and trauma) that are induced upon stressful occurrences, clinical psychologist and key researcher at the University of California George Slavich finds that depression is irrefutably a physical illness.
Yes, that means the age-old considered mental illness that has long been associated with a bad breakup or tragic loss is actually just a side effect of our inflammatory process readily getting back into the groove of things. Interesting, huh?
Well, as of right now, this isn’t all set in stone; the thought is still in its hypothesis state. Psychologists worldwide have been throwing around the idea of depression being a physical illness since as early as the 19th Century. Shockingly enough, the team over at the University of California is the first to establish a formidable stack of information proving this might just be the case.
The craftily-guided material makes sense. After all, most symptoms of depression are overtly physical. The cytokine-induced behaviors–lack of hunger, restlessness, and aversion to social settings–are represented in the introductory response phases of depression. It’s within this “sickness behavior” that the patient is charged with inflammation, seemingly depressed.
“Depression is a multifaceted illness,” she says. “Doctors are constantly writing off their patients with depression and ignoring the real illnesses before them. Our bodies are fighting off what appears to be depression when–in fact–it can simply be our inflammatory response system to something else.”
Clouden continues, expressing that many inflammatory-centric ailments are hidden beneath a depression diagnosis. She tells BTR that those diagnosed with depression oftentimes begin to showcase symptoms of inflammatory illnesses, such as heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Misdiagnoses within the realm of mental illness are rather common and derail treatments that patients may need. Clouden notes that although Slavich’s study is onto something, the subject’s inflammatory system cannot be accredited as the sole root to their depression.
“The problem is [every case of depression] lacks specificity,” Clouden explains. “One must look at the patient’s overall health, [testing] for multiple things before concluding [it to be] depression. We’ve had patients who’ve been diagnosed with depression who’ve really had Lupus. It can be that far ranging.”
Coulden further emphasizes, “Or it can be totally mental, where the patient doesn’t show any particular inflammation in their depression state, like in cases of melancholia. Each case is very individual.”
In cases like ones of melancholia (a form of major depressive disorder), patients rarely showcase symptoms of inflammation. Slavich’s hypothesis is cornered here–essentially invalidating the illnesses of approximately 10 percent of the American adults.
There’s no solidified evidence proving one thing, or another. The origin of any person’s fall into depression is unique, leaving each case its own spectacle. Yet, the factual communication taking place between the brain and immune system–gauging both one’s mental and physical state–is of significant worth.
“As doctors, we need to stop looking at every patient as if they’re wrong,” Clouden reiterates, “and start helping.”