A Compelling New Theory of Depression

A Compelling New Theory of Depression

A fascinating theory has been put forward by Turhan Canli PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology and Radiology at Stony Brook University, which could change the future direction for research and treatments of depression. 

According to Dr Canli, depression should be re-conceptualised as an infectious disease. His argument is a compelling one.

In a paper published in Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders, Dr Canli suggests that depression could be the result of a parasitic, bacterial or viral infection.

Depression is a pervasive illness, with around 16% of people experiencing an episode at some point in their lives.

There has been little change in treatments over the last few decades and although antidepressants are effective in reducing symptoms in patients with severe symptoms, in patients with mild to moderate symptoms they are no more clinically effective than placebos.

Recurrence of depression is common. Those who have experienced one episode have a 50% chance of recurrence. Those who have experienced depression twice have an 80% chance of experiencing it a third time.

Dr Canli explains, ‘Given this track record, I argue that it is time for an entirely different approach. Instead of conceptualising depression as an emotional disorder, I suggest to reconceptualise it as some form of an infectious disease.’

Dr Canli is also a member of the Program in Neuroscience, and a Senior Fellow in the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics. ‘I propose that future research should conduct a concerted search for parasites, bacteria, or viruses that may play a causal role in the etiology of depression.

 Dr Canli presents three arguments for reconceptualising depression as an infectious disease:

  1. ‘Patients with depression experience sickness behaviour’.

    The main criteria for a diagnosis of depression are affective symptoms, specifically a loss of energy and diminished interest in the world and previously enjoyable activities. However  inflammatory biomarkers of depression strongly suggest the origin of depression to be illness related. Dr Canli suggests that the inflammatory markers may indicate the stimulation of the immune system in response to a pathogen such as a parasite, bacterium or virus. He acknowledges that there is currently no direct evidence that depression is caused by a micro-organism, however the process is a plausible one and warrants further research.

  2. There is clear evidence that parasites, bacteria and viruses can affect emotional behavior.

    Parasites: There is evidence that infection by the parasite, T. gondii is associated with elevated inflammatory biomarkers similar to that observed in depressed patients;

    Bacteria: Research has begun to investigating the causal links between emotional behaviour and bacteria in the gut.

    Viruses: A meta-analysis of 28 studies looked at the link between depression and infectious agents. Borna disease virus (BDV) has been found to be 3.25 times more likely to be found in depressed patients than in normal controls. Further research is necessary to understand the link.

  3. The genetics of the illness.

    Genetic studies to date have looked at human genes within the human genome (complete set of DNA). However, the human body is host to other micro-organisms, with their own genetic makeup, that can be passed across generations. As a result, ‘the opportunity for genetic discoveries is vastly amplified’.

Based on these three arguments, Dr Canli suggests the future research in the area involve large-scale studies with depressed patients, controls, and infectious-disease related protocols. He explains, ‘Such efforts, if successful, would represent the ‘end of the beginning’, as any such discovery would represent the first step toward developing a vaccination for major depression.’

[irp posts=”897″ name=”Depression: Why Talking Isn’t Enough”]

13 Comments

Jack

i have had terrible depressive symptoms for the past 9 months. my life had fallen apart around me. Anyway, two weeks ago i got a nasty ear and throat infection. i was prescribed antibiotics which didnt work. i was then prescribed a different type which worked a lot better.
This week, for the first time since January i have no depressive symptoms at all. i feel better than i have for a long time.
i was trying to understand what had happened. the only change was the antibiotics, which is what led me to this page. Could this be the answer?

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Meg

This is particularly fascinating to me as my 15-year-old son was brought almost literally to his knees by a sudden, severe depression the week after doing his first 5K obstacle mud run which took him through countless flooded swamps and even a flooded cow pasture. The depression has barely loosened its grip and continues to flare. Because he has never once had depression or even much sadness I am thoroughly convinced there is something biological at work. Blood tests today!

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heysigmund

That is really interesting. There seems to be a lot of research happening around depression at the moment. It’s opening up different pathways but it’s also making me realise that there’s so much more to know about it. I’m pleased your getting blood tests – it sounds as though your son is in good hands. It will be really interesting to see what they reveal. It must have been awful to see such a sudden change in your son. I hope they find something that can give you both comfort. Would love to hear how you go.

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Meg

Strange to say how upset I am that his blood tests showed nothing. They did a whole CBC workup and blood counts, adrenal function and thyroid are all perfectly normal. No sign of infection. I am waiting to hear the results of Lyme’s disease and thinking of using a consult with a pediatric neurologist to look at other testing. Has anyone heard of PANDAS? It’s a strep infection that affects the ganglia/brain stem and causes mood disorders, tics, etc. It’s a stretch but worth exploring. Maybe I’m in denial? But the suddeness and severity of this has me thinking physiological illness.

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heysigmund

I completely understand why you would be upset about the bloods not showing anything. It’s just not making any sense for you is it, that’s the awful thing about this. There was a comment in the article on the Anxiety in Kids post about PANDAS. The post is on the home page – the first one in the slider up the top. It was posted on 15 March by a mother who’s been there. There’s a link there that might be helpful for you. I really don’t know enough about it to comment but I think it’s good to be open to everything. Your doctors would be the ones to talk to. It sounds as though you have a good team there who are trying everything they can to get to the bottom of it. Having said that, there’s a lot to be said for a mother’s intuition.

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Debra Farrell

I have suffered since I was 15 years old, I have years where I am fine but it comes back. My mother and my daughter also suffer, my Daughter most off the time. It is very encouraging that research could be going in a new direction.

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heysigmund

Be assured that there is so much research happening around depression. It just affects so many people and it’s important that the research keeps moving forward so we can come up with better treatment options. Just know that it’s happening. Thank you for taking the time to make contact.

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Mandy Titterton

I think he could be right, i’ve suffered with depression all my life and have thought for some time i could have a bacterial infection or parasites

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Karen Young

His arguments make really good sense don’t they. We’re learning more about depression every day but there’s still so much to learn. It’s so good to see new research tracks opening up. Hope you’re doing okay.

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Susan

I became mentally ill at 37, at the same time I had bad acne rosacea, with lots of pustules, I have noticed that with a flare of this disease I also had major depression . So now when the flare starts i have two weeks on antibiotics and then have a treatment with Limelight strength laser to my face. This keeps it away for two years. I have also had weight gain and gut problems from the drugs I was prescribed, i know my gut flora was affected so i am also thinking there is a link to a germ. I still struggle but can manage with these measures and a sensible diet, however weight loss doesnt seem to happen easily once your body has aclimatISed to a larger weight.

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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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#parenthood #parenting #positiveparenting #parentingtips #childdevelopment #parentingadvice #parentingtip #mindfulparenting #positiveparentingtips #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️
Speaking to the courage that is coming to life inside them helps to bring it close enough for them to touch, and to imagine, and to step into, even if doesn’t feel real for them yet. It will become them soon enough but until then, we can help them see what we see - a brave, strong, flight-ready child who just might not realise it yet. ‘I know how brave you are.’ ‘I love that you make hard decisions sometimes, even when it would be easier to do the other thing.’ ‘You might not feel brave, but I know what it means to you to be doing this. Trust me – you are one of the bravest people I know.’
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 #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting #parentingtips #parentingadvice
So often, our children will look to us for signs of whether they are brave enough, strong enough, good enough. Let your belief in them be so big, that it spills out of you and over to them and forms the path between them and their mountain. And then, let them know that the outcome doesn't matter. What matters is that they believe in themselves enough to try. 

Their belief in themselves might take time to grow, and that's okay. In the meantime, let them know you believe in them enough for both of you. Try, ‘I know this feels big and I know you can do it. What is one small step you can take? I’m right here with you.’♥️
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 #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #parentingtip #childdevelopment #braindevelopment #mindfulparenting
Anxiety will tell our kiddos a deficiency story. It will focus them on what they can't do and turn them away from what they can. We know they are braver, stronger, and more powerful than they could ever think they are. We know that for certain because we’ve seen it before. We’ve seen them so held by anxiety, and we’ve seen them move through - not every time but enough times to know that they can. Even when those steps through are small and awkward and uncertain, they are brave. Because that’s how courage works. It’s fragile and strong, uncertain and powerful. We know that that about courage and we know that about them. 

Our job as their important adults is to give them the experiences that will help them know it too. This doesn't have to happen in big leaps. Little steps are enough, as long as they are forward. 

When their anxiety has them focused on what they can't do, focus them on what they can. By doing this, we are aligning with their capacity for brave, and bringing it into the light. 

Anxiety will have them believing that there are only two options - all or nothing; to do or not to do. So let's introduce a third. Let's invite them into the grey. This is where brave, bold beautiful things are built, one tiny step at a time. So what does this look like? It looks like one tiny step at a time. The steps can be so small at first - it doesn't matter how big they are, as long as they are forward. 
If they can't stay for the whole of camp, how much can they stay for?
If they can't do the whole swimming lesson on their own, how much can they do?
If they can't sleep all night in their own bed, how long can they sleep there for?
If they can't do the exam on their own, what can they do?
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When we do this, we align with their brave, and gently help it rise, little bit, by little bit. We give them the experiences they need to know that even when they feel anxious, they can do brave, and even when they feel fragile they are powerful.

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