Could Depression Be An Infectious Disease? Expert Says Yes

Depression remains to be one of the deadliest mental disorders in the United States. A huge number of suicides have been blamed on major depressive disorder, while hundreds of other cases remain undiagnosed mainly due to social stigma. People take depression less seriously than other diseases, despite the condition accounting for hundreds of deaths per year in the U.S.

Unfortunately, depression is also one of the least understood mental conditions. Scientists have uncovered many things about the condition, but as with most mental disorders, experts have yet to provide a clear blueprint of its psychopathology. A Stony Brook scientist’s insights on depression might pave the way for a better understanding of the disorder.

Turhan Canli, a professor of Psychology and Radiology at Stony Brook University in New York, says it might be time to re-conceptualize depression as an infectious disease, similar to Ebola and flu. According to Canli, depression — a mental condition with no apparent physical manifestations — can possibly be caused by parasitic, bacterial, or viral infection.

According to Science Daily, Canli lays down possible scenarios that might pave way for infectious invasions to cause depression. The professor first noted loss of energy and the inflammatory biomarkers in major depressive disorder as possible evidence for an illness-related cause for depression. He also noted that some bacteria and viruses have been observed to alter human behavior upon infection. Lastly, Canli factored in genetics and the role of the human body as an ideal ecosystem for microorganisms.

“Given this track record of MDD, I propose reconceptualizing the condition as some form of infectious disease. Future research should conduct a concerted effort search of parasites, bacteria, or viruses that may play a causal role in the etiology of MDD.”

Depression isn’t the first mental disorder to be linked with infections. A hypothesis that schizophrenia is connected to parasitic infections — particularly of T. gondii — is rising in popularity. An older article from Science Daily reports of a University of Pennsylvania study linking the possible infection of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii to at least a fifth of all schizophrenia patients.

There are many ways to deal with depression, and consulting a psychologist or a psychiatrist is the first step. There are countless non-profit organizations that offer services to people suffering from depression. Love To Know lists eight charities that can help people with depression, including the Freedom from Fear, National Alliance on Mental Health, and Beacon Tree Foundation.

[Image from Casey Muir-Taylor/Flickr]