Could depression actually be nothing more than an allergic reaction?
Our understanding and awareness of depression has, thankfully, evolved some way beyond the old-fashioned “pull-yourself-together” response. Most now know that it’s a multifaceted, shape-shifting, and frequently debilitating condition that transcends race, sex, and creed. But we still don’t know exactly why some become depressed and some don’t.
We know that people may be genetically predisposed to depression and anxiety disorders. We also know that specific life events may trigger depressive episodes in those who have previously been the picture of mental health. But so far we’ve been unable to identify one single, definitive catalyst. However, new research suggests that, for some people, depression may be caused by something as simple as an allergic reaction. A reaction to inflammation—a product of the body, not the mind.
George Slavich, a clinical psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, is one of an increasing number of scientists who believe we need to be looking at our physiology to better understand depression—that, perhaps, it’s not all in the head. “I don’t even talk about it as a psychiatric condition anymore,” he told the Guardian. “It does involve psychology, but it also involves equal parts of biology and physical health.”
The thesis is simple: Everyone feels like shit when they’re sick. That ennui we feel when we’re unwell—listlessness, lack of enthusiasm, troubled sleep, tearfulness, and a general feeling of wading through tar—is apparently known among psychologists as “sickness behavior.” Our bodies are pretty intelligent, see—they behave this way so that we stop, lie still, and let our system fight whatever infection of virus has us croaking for Gatorade on the couch.
These kinds of emotional responses are also typical of depression, though. So scientists are asking: If sick people feel and act a lot like depressed people, might there be a link?