Think about it for a minute…

Think about it for a minute.  When we are physically ill our whole bodies tell us to stop.  To rest, to sleep to recuperate to allow our bodies time to recover from the illness, whatever that may be.  Psychologists often call this sickness behaviour.  It is an adaptive response to being ill.  However, people who suffer from depression also experience sickness behaviour and their bodies adapt in the same way as people who are physically ill.  Both feel lousy.

Our bodies react in the same way

I read an article recently in the Guardian about the idea that depression could actually be more like an allergic reaction than a mental health disorder.  The article explored the idea that there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that depression is actually much more a physical illness than a mental one.  Scientists have found that inflamation in the immune system alerts the body to fight an infection/illness.  So, in simple terms, when we are physically ill our immune system becomes inflamed – this inflamation being the catalyst to make our body react to the illness and fight it.  However, similarly when clinically depressed individuals experience a depressed episode they too have been found to have inflamation in the immune system – our bodies react in the exact same way.

Our diet matters

A study found that when healthy individuals are given a drug which increases the inflamation in the immune system they become depressed and anxious and show the same sickness behaviours as we do when we are physically ill.  Interestingly, it isn’t just illness and infections that can cause the inflamation in the immune system.  A diet full of fats and sugar can too along with obesity because body fat particularly around the stomach region store high proportions of the proteins that cause the inflamation in the first place.  It won’t surprise you to find out that a diet full of fruit, vegetables and oily fish reduce inflamation in the immune system.

Further evidence informs us people who suffer from inflammatory diseases often also suffer from depression, further suggesting that inflamation in the immune system is linked to depression, just like any other illness we might suffer from.  Drugs used to treat patients that boosts the inflammatory response to help the patient fight the disease also carry depression as a harmful side affect.

The link between stress and inflammation

The article points out the link between stress and inflamation in our immune systems and suggests depression is a kind of allergy to modern day life.  Does this explain why the number of people diagnosed with depression continues to spiral out of control all over the world today?   So, what can we learn from this information?

How could this help people who suffer from depression?

Maybe for many people learning that depression is a physical health disorder rather that the stigma carried with having a mental health disorder would enable people to recover from it better because they would understand it more.  If you want to feel less depressed and understand that reducing the amount of sugar and fats you eat will reduce the amount of inflamation in the immune system thus making you feel better (reducing sickness behaviour) then maybe more people will act when they experience a depressed episode rather than reach for the anti-depressant.

I’ve never been a fan of medication and avoid taking pills at all costs because I am very aware that whatever I put into my body will have a side affect.  If you read the side affects of anti depressant drugs they will simply scare the life out of you.  When I read that one of the side affects was thoughts of suicide I was completely astounded.  This surely cannot be good for anyone who is feeling depressed.  I watched a programme recently about the mass shooting in America in a cinema.  Both he and his parents believe that the reason he committed such a horrendous crime was the side affects of the anti-depressant drugs yet his doctors just kept on upping the dose.  Positive psychology gives people the chance to try an alternative treatment to depression, one that they can control and manage and there are no nasty side affects.  For example, as stress is linked to increased inflamation in the immune system a great way to reduce stress is to exercise or to meditate, I love mindfulness meditation and this along with cardiovvascular exercise I find is the best way to release stress.

Depression – no longer a mind based illness

I think is very powerful to consider depression as a physical illness rather than a mental illness as it suggests we can do something to fix the problem, to get better rather than the idea that if you suffer from a mental health disorder you’ll always be susceptable to it.  Positive psychological practices can help people who suffer from depression treat and recover from their illness in much more sustained ways than anti-depressants ever will, I believe.  This theory suggests that rather than depression being a mind based weakness instead it is something that any of us can suffer from given the right conditions for onset of the illness.


‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’


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