Could your body’s immune system be linked to depression?

As we see, week by week, celebrities are opening up about their personal battles with depression in a bid to encourage everyone to talk more about mental health - trying to end the stigma.

Mental health is the overall category in which depression falls and in where the stigma is carried. What if depression was a physical illness that made you feel a bit lousy? This is what some scientists are now claiming. George Slavich, a clinical psychologist, has spent years studying depression and has stated that it is has as much to do with the body as the mind; ‘It does involve equal parts of biology and physical health’.

Is this obvious? When we are ill we are tired, bored, fed up and can’t move off the sofa. These behaviours and feelings occur for a very good reason, for us to rest and stop the infection spreading any further. Scientists now have extended these sickness behaviours to people with depression – might there be a common cause for both?

At the moment, the best match for a common cause is inflammation. A family of chemicals (cytokines) set off inflammation in the body and switches the brain into sickness mode. These chemicals and the inflammation have both been shown to rocket during depressive episodes and can drop off in periods of remission.

Other linking examples have shown that people with inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis tend to suffer more than average with depression.

Scientists have started to take this further and have tried to determine the reason for the inflammation. Diet could play a factor; high fats and sugars promote inflammation. Obesity is another risk factor with body fats storing the chemicals (cytokines) that set off inflammation. Social rejection and loneliness are also known causes of inflammation. Is depression a kind of allergy to modern life?

Of the few clinical trials done so far there does seem to be some evidence that adding anti-inflammatory medicines to antidepressants does improve symptoms. It is worth noting that it is very early days still in this research and many more trials are to be done before anything is concluded from this.

This all leads to the same old question – can the stigma be lost? Time alone will determine this.